SHARE
COPY LINK
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

‘Frustrated’ Marseille picked off by Arsenal

Olympique Marseille got their Champions League campaign off to a poor start when they were beaten 2-1 at home to Arsenal on Wednesday. Even after one game Marseille's hopes of getting through a tough group now look slim.

'Frustrated' Marseille picked off by Arsenal
Marseille's French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena looks frustrated as his team goes down 2-1 at home to Marseille. Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP

Arsenal got their Champions League campaign off to the ideal start on Wednesday as second-half goals by Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey secured a 2-1 win away to Marseille.

An even contest at the Stade Velodrome swung Arsenal's way in the 65th minute when their French hosts were made to pay for a defensive error, as Jeremy Morel's pitiful attempted clearance inside his own box was pounced upon by Walcott, who slammed the ball past Steve Mandanda in goal.

Walcott's first goal of the campaign was followed by a sixth of the season for the in-form Ramsey, who drove through the middle of the home defence before firing low past the helpless Mandanda on 83 minutes.

Jordan Ayew pulled one back from the penalty spot at the death, but that could not prevent Arsenal from making it six straight wins in all competitions.

"Marseille played well, while we played within ourselves in the first half and were a bit timid," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger afterwards.

"But then they dropped a bit in the second half. I knew when it was still 0-0 after an hour that the team who scored first would win."

Forward Olivier Giroud said their expericence at this level had told.

"Tonight we were effective and even though we didn't dazzle, we dominated the match and while Marseille weren't undeserving, we knew how to make the difference on the little details. That's what the European Cup is about."

They have set themselves up nicely for the remainder of their Group F campaign, with tough fixtures against Borussia Dortmund and Napoli to come, while outsiders Marseille already face an uphill struggle to rescue anything from their European season.

"We are left feeling frustrated, disappointed," said coach Elie Baup. "We played well but Arsenal took their chances."

Marseille had welcomed Andre Ayew back into their starting line-up after suspension, while Giannelli Imbula kept his place in midfield despite suggestions that he might be replaced by Benoit Cheyrou.

Imbula, who turned 21 last week, impressed on his Champions League debut as the hosts started well inside a Stade Velodrome open on one side and which still resembles a building site.

Aware of the need to get off to a good start, Baup's side had the better of the first-half chances, and the first genuine fright for Arsenal came when Andre Ayew headed a Dimitri Payet cross just wide in the 21st minute.

That was in the midst of Marseille's best spell of pressure in the first period, as Arsenal struggled to contain the lively trio of Mathieu Valbuena, Imbula and Payet.

Per Mertesacker, back in the Arsenal line-up after missing Saturday's 3-1 Premier League win at Sunderland, then cleared a low Payet cross from practically underneath his own bar before Andre-Pierre Gignac headed just over from Payet's corner.

In contrast, Arsenal created little of note in the first period, with the exception of a Walcott effort which was saved by Mandanda inside six minutes.

However, the match was a far more open affair after the restart.

The unlikely figure of Rod Fanni appeared inside the penalty area within two minutes of the second period beginning to send a volley fizzing just past the far post, before Mandanda denied Kieran Gibbs, who had been the beneficiary of a marvellous backheeled pass by Mesut Ozil as the action swung from end to end.

As the hour approached, Marseille captain Mandanda was called into action again, saving from Jack Wilshere after the England midfielder was picked out unmarked by Bacary Sagna's cross.

There was then an almighty let-off for the London club, as Gibbs did brilliantly to clear the ball away from under his own bar and avoid a certain own-goal after Mertesacker had managed to spoon a cross over the helpess Wojciech Szczesny

Four minutes later, Gibbs played a central part in the crucial opener, as his cross from the left sparked confusion in the Marseille area and Walcott took full advantage to score.

Ramsey, who scored the only goal when Arsenal won at the same venue in a Champions League group game two years ago, then made sure of the win before Jordan Ayew, on as a substitute, netted a stoppage-time penalty consolation for OM after Ramsey was adjudged to have fouled Andre Ayew inside the area.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

PSG confident of Real Madrid scalp despite Neymar’s absence

Paris Saint-Germain remain optimistic that they can record what would be the biggest victory since the Qatari takeover of the club, even with Neymar out injured, when they face Real Madrid on Tuesday. Can they do it?

PSG confident of Real Madrid scalp despite Neymar's absence
AFP

A late collapse saw PSG lose 3-1 in Madrid last month in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. And they come into Tuesday's return without Neymar, as the world's most expensive player recovers in Brazil from a foot operation.

Despite that blow, and the prospect of having to overturn such a deficit against the two-time reigning European champions, PSG are not throwing in the
towel as they bid to reach the quarter-finals.

“I think that we need games like this and to beat these teams to take a step forward and so that our opponents really take notice of PSG, and don't just think we have loads of money,” said Dani Alves, who played in two Champions League final victories for Barcelona and was in the Juventus side beaten by Real in last season's final.

“I said last summer when I was presented here that I wasn't coming just to live in Paris or take the money. I came here because I am a competitor,” added
Alves, speaking to media at the Parc des Princes on the eve of the game.

After Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, PSG had four successive quarter-final defeats in the Champions League before the
humiliation in Barcelona in the last 16 a year ago.

A failure to turn the tie around on Tuesday would mean PSG being eliminated by one of Spain's big two for the fourth time in six seasons.

“PSG have had their limits in this competition in the past and now we need to go beyond them to keep on progressing as a club,” added Alves.

Neymar's absence is an obviously huge blow, but Alves and coach Unai Emery both insisted that Paris have enough quality in their ranks to cope without
him.

“When one player is missing, it opens the door for someone else, and I know that whoever comes in through that door will do so with all their force,” said
Emery.

Angel Di Maria, who won the Champions League with Real in 2014, is likely to be the major beneficiary of Neymar's absence.

The Argentine has been PSG's form player with 13 goals in 14 starts in 2018, although he has played just 67 minutes in the Champions League this
season.

“He is a spectacular player, who made history with Real Madrid. He can play in any position across the middle, he moves well, has a good shot, and is quick,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

No margin for error

Di Maria has a point to prove, as does Emery, who took charge of his 100th PSG game at the weekend.

His contract expires in June and there is surely no prospect of a renewal in the event of a defeat, even with PSG on course for a domestic clean sweep.

The pressure is also on Zidane, albeit less so after the manner of their first-leg victory.

Cristiano Ronaldo, whose brace in the first leg took him past 100 Champions League goals for Real, is in form again and the Spanish giants have not been knocked out at this stage of the competition since 2010.

“Tomorrow (Tuesday), after the game, it's going to be difficult for one of the two teams, but that is football,” said Zidane.

Fifteen points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona and out of the Copa del Rey, Real are throwing everything into their quest to win a third consecutive Champions League.

“That can mean added pressure or added motivation,” said captain Sergio Ramos. “We are focusing everything on the Champions League and the margin for error is minimal.”

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric trained on the Parc des Princes pitch on Monday evening and could play after spells on the sidelines with respective knee and thigh problems.

Javier Pastore, who had been a slight doubt with a calf problem, was named in the PSG squad.