Arsenal v Marseille: Move along, there’s nothing to see here

Arsenal 0-0 Marseille

Goonerholic summed up last night perfectly in his blog title – it was a classic case of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’.

Fed on helter-skelter excitement, chaotic defending and a Gatling-gun of goals on Saturday, last night we were bumped back down to earth with a performance that if you were being generous was defensively sound, and if you were being less generous, as dull as ditchwater.

Some nil nils are full of excitement. This one wasn’t. Looking at the match stats, we apparently had six shots on goal. I can’t for the life of me remember more than two, but there you go. Their keeper Mandanda came out to gather crosses well but he didn’t have to work too hard otherwise. You could have put Suzanne Dando or Desperate Dan between the sticks: I’m not sure we’ve have noticed much.

It’s not a bad result and in the grand scheme of things, it oughtn’t mean much, but set the pulse racing it did not. Park, replacing the irreplaceable van Persie, proved that at the moment, he’s not able to replace van Persie.

I thought Gervinho and Ramsey were lively enough, and seeing Vermaelen commanding the back was a joy, but otherwise we struggled to make enough of the game. Walcott had a stodgy evening (the lot of the winger, I have always thought, is to blow hot and cold). And that’s really about it. Honestly, I think I might have forgotten about it already.

Also, in many ways it showed up the classic flaw of the Champions League group stages. Namely that when neither side is in imminent danger in the group, neither side needs to go for it 100%. It wasn’t a dead rubber but it had the air of a tie that didn’t really hold too many consequences. Whether that proves to be true only time will tell.

Certainly, we’re still in a good place – top of our group – and we’re unbeaten.

Props to the Marseille fans too – they were cracking.

Clean sheet, dented goalposts, but no goals

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City

In the pub beforehand, there wasn’t a single member of our party who envisaged anything other than a home win, and some of us thought we might get three goals (I think I went for 2-1). All I can say in hindsight is it’s a good job none of us are bookmakers by trade. Pre-match exuberance, eh.

It was pretty clear from the off that it would be tight, with City defending diligently and chasing us down off the ball. Nevetheless, the opening 20 minutes were our best period of the game.

I got a few disagreeing tweets last night when I suggested post match that it had been a game of ‘few chances’. Perhaps an overreaction borne of frustration on my part, but it is true that it was a game predominantly of half chances, with a few three-quarter chances thrown in. Nevertheless, in a tight game with a defensively savvy and pretty unambitious opponent, you need to make more of the chances you do get and clearly we were not able to do that.

It might aesthetically be your cup of tea – it’s certainly not mine these days – but there is much to admire in defensive obduracy. I grew up on a diet of George Graham and we would revel in stifling our opponents and nicking goals. City were content to do the same with the odd attempt to forage goalwards.

It’s no wonder they have kept the highest amount of clean sheets; when they choose to, they sit and stifle and they do it very well. I suspect most teams would have struggled to break that down.

I was impressed again with Song and Wilshere, shielding from deep, and Djourou / Koscielny both receive nods of approval. Theirs is clearly the best central defensive partnership we have at the moment. Interesting tweets from the Guardian’s @seaningle this morning:

“Last night was the first time this season that Arsenal have dropped a point in the PL when Johan Djourou has played (P9 W8 D1) …”

“… and think I’m right in saying that Arsenal haven’t lost a PL game with Djourou since 22nd November 2008 v Man City (P21 W18 D3 L0)”

So two successive nil nils against City at home, but this one was not as eye-rollingly dull as the one at the tail end of last season. City were equally cautious then, but the added ingredient was that we were entirely ineffective in May whereas last night we had a lot more to us. It was an intriguing battle in the end – and as Wengerball says, it was a clash of ideologies that made for good viewing.

Sadly, we couldn’t snaffle the three points but c’est la vie.

And on the plus side – Arsenal’s kit lady will have had one less kit to wash. Fabianski’s jersey can go straight back on the peg.