Arsenal's task is simple: don't lose by three goals to Napoli and they are through to the last-16 of the Champions League.

Despite being drawn in the "group of death" and with many predicting Arsenal to not progress to the knockout stage for the first time since 2000, the Gunners are now on the brink of silencing their critics with considerable aplomb. And, should Arsenal avoid defeat against Napoli they will qualify top of their group.

Having continued their momentum after the international break with a comfortable 2-0 win against Southampton on Saturday, Arsene Wenger decided to give Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla a break by benching them for Tuesday's encounter with Marseille.

However, Arsenal did not need them as they tore Marseille's midfield to pieces, and spent the vast majority of the game stretching the opposition's defence to breaking point.

Were it not for a few lapses of concentration when finishing attacks off, Arsenal could have finished the game off within twenty minutes as wave after wave of red players crashed against the draining Marseille defence.

Jack Wilshere opened the scoring within thirty seconds as he ran onto Bacary Sagna's through ball, cut inside and deliciously lifted the ball into the back of the net. The Gunners continued to expose Marseille's modest left flank and it seemed that the match would be over as a contest by half time.

However, no more Arsenal goals came despite the at times mesmerising football produced by Arsenal's midfield, and it was not until the 65th minute that proceedings were wrapped up by Jack Wilshere's second goal of the game after he finished off a breath-taking Arsenal move.

Mesut Ozil received criticism after his poor penalty was comfortably saved by Steve Mandanda as well as being unusually off-colour in the first half, but his assist for the second goal easily made amends. He is still some way off his top form, but his confidence is building and building and his patience is paying off with every goal and assist.

Ozil was much more involved in the game than usual; particularly in the second half: he tends to conserve his energy before bursting into life once he is called into action, but he raced around the field fetching the ball much more like Aaron Ramsey, Wilshere and the other energetic Arsenal midfielders. He created four chances - more than the entire Marseille team - and deserved more than a solitary assist at the end of the game.

The German playmaker has transformed Arsenal to a great extent already, and once his confidence has built up fully, he could prove to be unstoppable.

This result proved to be a masterstroke for Wenger. Not only has he rested Cazorla, Arteta and (inadvertently) Kieran Gibbs and still cruised to victory, he has found out that Nacho Monreal is more than capable of filling in for, and possibly challenging Gibbs for a starting berth.

He's also re-invigorated Wilshere. The Englishman has had a tough season so far despite some glimpses of his old self, but today his vision and technique came to the fore as he made a performance reminiscent of the fresh-faced teenager who was man of the match against Barcelona.

Throughout his career Wilshere has had injury problems: from a young age he has had to deal with defenders dealing with his threat by making "over-zealous" challenges on his ankles, but since he has been less relied-upon by Arsenal due to the scintillating form of Ramsey, his time spent on the bench has allowed for his ankles to heal and if he can build on tonight's performance he will be back to his best and ready to get much better.

The result proved the sheer depth of Arsenal's midfield. Tomas Rosicky has managed to pull all the strings against Napoli and Marseille, and should injuries strike, Wenger will not have to worry about fringe players filling in.

If Arsenal can achieve the same depth of quality in the other areas with some signings in January, then they should be more than able to get through injury problems with no more stress than any other side.

Gibbs missed the game through illness but Monreal proved more than a suitable understudy as his passing and runs helped wear the Marseille defence down as well as his dedication preventing Les Phocéens from being able to do the same. Gibbs has been helped by missing this game as his legs have been well rested for Arsenal's next run of matches.

Wojciech Szczesny provided yet more evidence that he has made the transition from shot-stopper to show-stopper (i.e. his ability to concentrate for ninety minutes) as he made a fine save from a low shot by Florian Thauvin where a less experienced Szczesny may have made an error.

Arsenal now move into a run of potential banana-skins in the Premier League against Cardiff City, Hull and Everton before the deciding Champions League match against Napoli. Should the players who were rested be able to spring back into action and should Arsenal be able to create as many chances as they did against Marseille, then those matches will pass by unnoticed for the Gunners. 

 

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Topics:
#UEFA Champions League
#Arsenal
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