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Marseille triumph a sign of Arsenal’s growth

Gunners on the road to redemption

By | 21st October 2011

Results, regardless of performances, are often the hallmarks of champions. Time and time again, the best sides have been able to grind out wins even in the face of formidable adversaries and unlikely circumstances.

Now, the Arsenal performance Tuesday night at the Stade Velodrome was far from subpar, but in a fairly even match, Aaron Ramsey’s strike at the death brings all three points back to North London, and for the first time it seems that Arsene Wenger’s side, who have suffered this year from media criticism and a string of very poor results, may have the ability to achieve something this year and in the future, and at the least remain in the Champions League spots.

The Arsenal side that lined up against Marseille was far from ideal – Jack Wilshere remains injured, as are Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna. Carl Jenkinson, who has been shaky at best this year since his arrival from Charlton, was given the nod at right back, with Andre Santos at left back.

Per Mertesacker partnered the sometimes-clumsy Laurent Koscielny in the middle of defence, with Alex Song and Mikel Arteta partnering in central midfield. Tomas Rosicky returned to the side as the central midfielder higher up with the pitch, with Andrei Arshavin and Theo Walcott on the wings and captain Robin Van Persie leading the line.

Given that the home side were no easy test, the odds were not exactly stacked in the English club’s favor. But something peculiar happened. There was no disaster, or game-killing mistake that could prove to be the hallmark of another heartbreaking failure for Wenger and his team.

In fact, Arsenal looked more likely to score, with 55% of possession and 9 corners, compared to Marseille’s 1. Nevertheless, it seemed as if the Gunners would fail to get the win, and by doing so underline the difference between themselves and the “big three,” with popular public opinion placing the Gunners in a different, lower league than Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea.

And there is undeniably work to be done if Arsenal are again to challenge for titles and again surpass these three. But Aaron Ramsey, perhaps the perfect symbol of Wenger’s newest generation that now makes up the majority of the first team, showed courage in the clutch in a situation that has evaded Arsenal’s grasp so many times.

The relief and joy on the faces of all, both on the pitch and the bench, was clear to see as the Welshman wheeled away in delight, sending the away fans into delirious celebrations when they have been on the wrong end so many times.

Wenger’s squad may not stack up to the true title contenders, but the emergence of a renewed Ramsey, along with inspired form from new additions Mertesacker, Arteta, and Gervinho, has given signs of life in a side that was lambasted after struggling early in the season.

In retrospect, the away draw against Borussia Dortmund now looks a valuable point, and the win over Marseille sees Arsenal at the top of their group, more than City or United can say at this admittedly early juncture. In his post match comments Wenger described the win as a “small step forward,” but added that more performances like this must continue in order to encourage and improve the team.

Currently, Arsenal sit 10th in the Premier League, with a record of 3 wins, 1 draw, and 4 losses from 8 matches leaving quite a bit to be desired. They are 12 points off leaders Man City.

The key now will be to continue the good form in Europe on the domestic front. Last week’s 2-1 win over Sunderland showed maturity, and suggests that the eternally too young Arsenal may be growing up.

The league or European title remains a bit far-fetched at this stage, and with good reason. But with continued confidence and newfound grit, and perhaps a few positive signings come January and in the next few windows, Arsenal may have the exoskeleton for the “Golden Generation” long promised by their manager.

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