Even in the darker times for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, the less stable seasons of the last few years, marked by those acerbic calls for something new around the managerial offices at the Emirates, there has always been this bracing, ongoing Champions League achievement.
And here Arsenal is once again, drawing ever closer to the brightly romantic nights of Champions League knockout stages for an amazing 14th consecutive season.
Arsenal was one of five clubs with a chance to advance Tuesday. Wenger’s Gunners did their part, and quite comfortably so, getting on top of Marseille after just 30 seconds and cruising to a 2-0 win that wasn’t quite that close.
Tuesday’s win at the Emirates was so comfortable thanks to that stunningly fantastic start; Jack Wilshere’s opener, slicing up a porous Marseille back line, was finished beautifully with a curler into the upper corner.
Wilshere’s first goal in Champions League matches this year was also the fastest ever by an England player in the competition. He hit a second after the break as the Gunners went top of their UEFA group, but Dortmund’s brave win over Napoli means Wenger and Co. must wait until the final day of group play to officially book its spot.
Arsenal blew a brilliant chance for a second after 36 minutes when Aron Ramsey was taking down a step outside the penalty area. Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz was well-positioned but mistakenly pointed to the spot anyway. Mesut Ozil, having done so much to shape Arsenal’s ongoing, intriguing bid for a Premier League crown, will have better moments; the German attacker saw his so-so spot shot saved well by Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.
But still the chances came for Arsenal against a French club that seemed less than interested in being in England, having made six changes from the weekend and probably more focused on gaining increased traction in its wayward Ligue 1 campaign. Arsenal stroked the ball around comfortably through long stretches.
Tomas Rosicky was among the brighter in Arsenal red, enjoying a night of little tricks and feints while helping drive his team’s midfield matters.
Olivier Giroud, enjoying a breakout campaign for Gunners, nearly broke through just before the half; he was upending just outside the penalty area, although Ramsey’s driven free kick could not evade the Marseille wall.
The important night remained in the balance through almost 70 minutes despite all of Arsenal’s ball-hogging and bossing. Finally, the second came as good work from Ramset set Ozil free down the right. Ozil quickly fed the breaking Wilshire in front of goal, and the Englishman had his second.
The sigh of relief managed, the Emirates came alive anew with song.
Wojciech Szczesny made one swell save at the near post as Marseille found some pride near the end but only managed a handful of mini-threats.