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Arsenal dispatch meek Marseille

POP SHOT: Theo Walcott strikes an effort on goal (PA)

IF JACK Wilshere’s 40-second opening goal was meant to herald a deluge it never materialised.

Arsenal dominated their hapless opponents on a night of little tension to open a three-point lead at the top of Group F ahead of next month’s visit to Napoli but it was a contest conducted with little urgency and, bar Wilshere’s insouciant brace, little precision from the hosts.

Arsene Wenger’s side played within themselves, mindful of the stiffer challenges in the weeks ahead but Marseille were insipid and unable to offer more than meek, disjointed opposition.

With the French side marooned at the bottom of Group F, and Dimitri Payet injured, Marseille coach Elie Baup saw fit to leave Mathieu Valbuena and Florian Thauvin on the bench as he selected youngsters including Mario Lamina and Jordan Ayew.

The move backfired as Arsenal held their opponents at arm’s length, toying with them, and pouncing during occasional moments of fluidity. Both Valbuena and Thauvin emerged from the visitors’ bench just before the hour mark.

It was a luxury Arsenal earned with a swift break in the first minute. Bacary Sagna spotted the run of Wilshere who beat Marseille’s high defensive line to charge towards goal under minimal pressure. There was a half-hearted attempt from Lucas Mendes to intervene but the England midfielder cut inside the Brazilian to curl a shot beyond the helpless Steve Mandanda from inside the penalty area.

Aaron Ramsey should have added a second six minutes later but could only steer his shot at Mandanda, while Mesut Ozil’s indelicacy in controlling Ramsey’s chipped pass on 17 minutes prevented the German increasing Arsenal’s advantage.

Ozil spurned the chance to make amends when his weak penalty was saved by Mandanda low to the goalkeeper’s right on 37 minutes. Justice was served in this instance as Nicolas N’Koulou’s challenge on Aaron Ramsey took place outside the area

Midway through the first period Andre-Pierre Gignac tried to circumnavigate Wojciech Szczesny in a rare moment of Marseille resistance as the ball broke loose in Arsenal’s penalty area but the Pole smothered the ball before Gignac could muster a shot.

The second goal finally arrived on 66 minutes when Ramsey released Ozil inside the visitors’ penalty area and the German picked out Wilshere with a square pass, delivered with the outside of his left foot, that the 21-year-old converted with ease while fending off the attentions of Kassim Abdallah.

The introduction of Valbuena and, in particular, Thauvin did see Marseille threaten to reduce the arrears. On 74 minutes Nacho Monreal was required to scoop away Thauvin’s looping, deflected effort from under his own crossbar and Szczesny had to get down low to repel the forward’s goal-bound strike three minutes later.

Yet these moments came with Arsenal continuing to play within themselves. Substitutes Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott both spurned good opportunities to add a third but it was not a night on which the Gunners were to be punished for their profligacy.

Arsenal require at least a draw in Naples to secure top position in Group F and qualification remains firmly in their own hands.

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