By Rob Kelly at The Marcel Cerdan Stadium
An injury-time goal by Marseille substitute Antoine Kisaku condemned Arsenal to a cruel defeat in the NextGen Series on Thursday evening.
Playing in the Marcel Cerdan Stadium - named after a celebrated French boxer - the Gunners were dealt a knockout blow in the final stages as the young striker slotted past Deyan Iliev.
In a tense affair, played on an extremely challenging pitch in the south of France, Arsenal went close through both Nigel Neita and Anthony Jeffrey but found further chances hard to come by.
Marseille offered far more of a threat than in the previous clash between the two sides in August, but also found it difficult to prise open the Arsenal defence. But with just seconds left, Kisaku raced through and kept his composure to deny Terry Burton’s side a point.
Last month’s goalless draw against Olympiacos had left Group Six in the balance, with just two points separating all four teams. An away win would be a welcome fillip for Burton's side, and he made four changes for the match.
Hector Bellerin returned from suspension in place of Alfred Mugabo, who dropped to the bench, while Kyle Ebecilio was handed his chance in the absence of Thomas Eisfeld. And with Serge Gnabry on first-team duty in the Champions League just 24 hours earlier, Neita came into the attack.
Interestingly, there was also a first Gunners appearance for Deyan Iliev, the 17-year-old goalkeeper signed from Macedonian side FK Belasica this summer.
The hosts meanwhile, had seen an upturn in results following their opening-day defeat to Arsenal at Underhill - although like their opponents they came into the game on the back of a frustrating goalless draw against Olympiacos.
Right from the first whistle it was clear that the Gunners would not find the going anywhere near as comfortable as in the previous meeting. Marseille were in determined mood and provided a much more physical examination of the visitors, snapping into tackles and pressing them high up the field.
It would not be an easy ride, and their task was not helped by the early exit of Ebecilio through injury after he landed awkwardly near the right touchline.
Indeed, it was the hosts who fashioned the first chance of note as Billel Omrani’s half volley from the edge of the area was spilled by Iliev, but the young goalkeeper gratefully snaffled the loose ball before the onrushing Marseille forward could touch it in.
Arsenal responded well though, and in the 14th minute Nico Yennaris did well to steal the ball in midfield and play through Neita. The powerful forward cut back inside on to his left foot but fired over the bar from the edge of the area.
It remained a tight, tense affair of few chances, but Chuba Akpom was presented with a decent opening in the 38th minute after meeting Jeffrey’s fizzing cross from the left, but directed his effort just over. Iliev was then called into action once more just before the break to palm away a curling Emmanuel Loiacono free kick.
Marseille made the early running at the start of the second half and came within inches of snatching the lead as Omrani curled a delightful free kick just wide from outside the area.
Arsenal soon settled once again and Akpom felt he had a good shout for a penalty after being bundled over the area, but the referee indicated he had already blown up for an earlier free kick.
Still Burton’s men came at their hosts, with Jon Toral influential as he first set up Akpom, whose shot was blocked, and then Jeffrey, who brought a flying save out of Julien Fabri.
With little to choose between the sides, it became clear that any lapse in concentration could prove crucial as the game entered its closing stages. And there was a heart-in-mouth moment at the end as Iliev raced out to head clear, but could only find Marcellin Anani. The striker slotted the ball into the empty net, but to the Gunners’ relief he was flagged for offside in the initial move.
But it wasn't the last moment of drama, as substitute Kisaku raced through in injury time to slot home a late winner for Marseille. It was a cruel end to a frustrating night in which the Gunners deserved far more.
- Hajrovic Yellow Card
- Monteiro 57
- Yennaris (C) Yellow Card
- Toral 72
- Ebecilio 7
- Mugabo 57
- Jeffrey 7
- Jebb 72
- Omrani 82
- M'Roudjae 74
- Anani 74
- Kisaku 82 Goal!