OM 1-2 Arsenal
A tough fixture away to Marseille offered plenty of chances for Arsenal to slip up in the opening set of fixtures in the “Group of Death”. Arsenal had 10 shots to OM’s 17, who forced 7 saves from Wojciech Szczesny but Arsenal got the result thanks to a fantastic finish from Theo Walcott and yet another Aaron Ramsey goal. Arsenal were on the back foot for large parts of the game, but crucially, came away from the Stade Vélodrome with a sixth straight win, and a record 10th in a row away from home.
The performance was far from vintage- Theo Walcott’s goal came from a horrendous mistake from Morel, the left back, who failed to clear a Kieran Gibbs cross. Walcott pounced registering his first goal of the new season. So far, he has struggled to find the finishing boots from last season, the most profitable of his career. Even if pre-season, he has looked to be lacking ruthlessness in front of goal. Despite this, he has continued to get into good positions, and seems to be more intelligent with his movement. Whether this is because his runs are now being picked out much more often by Özil and Ramsey or down to him, I’m not sure. Walcott did receive some stick for missing three one-on-ones chances against Sunderland as well as a couple against Tottenham. He did the same again yesterday, but hopefully, this first goal will spark him back into life. Certainly, if he keeps getting into the same positions, you can only see him bettering last year’s tally.
Napoli 2-1 Dortmund
Over in Naples, last years’ runners-up hoped to continue their dominant start to the season against a Napoli side that had a 100% winning record this season. Alas, almost everything that could have gone wrong for Dortmund, did. Napoli certainly looked on top for the entire game, with Gonzalo Higuaín posing a threat throughout. The first goal came from a cross, Higuaín heading home from close range. Jürgen Klopp’s “protests” in the aftermath about Subotic not being allowed back onto the field following a head injury saw him sent to the stands (and more importantly, produced an outburst which I’m sure will, in time, become a timeless classic. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch. In stoppage time of the first half a handball outside the area saw Roman Weidenfeller sent off. The points were wrapped up following a fantastic free-kick by Lorenzo Insigne.
Going forward, the sending off for Weidenfeller could prove extremely costly for Dortmund in the coming gameweeks. It probably would have been wise for him to concede the goal instead. However, there is no doubt that Dortmund still pose a huge threat to the other teams in the group and could easily qualify despite this setback. Napoli look well suited to the Champions League. Benitez has unsurprisingly added some defensive stability to a team that at times last year looked suspect at the back. Offensively, Higuaín, Insigne, Callejón and Hamsik are capable of tearing apart the best defences in Europe. Arsenal’s run of 10 straight wins away from home is due largely to their move to a counter attacking style which I looked at in a previous piece. This style is perhaps even better suited to the Champions League where they will often be dominated in terms of possession. They have a vital win and now must look ahead with confidence to their remaining ties. Going into fixtures against Napoli and Dortmund at home, this win provides Arsenal with a solid platform from which they can try to qualify from (and hopefully win) the group.