Arsenal's victory over Marseille shows off growing strength in depth

Posted by James McNicholas

Jack Wilshere gave Arsenal the lead against Marseille after just 29 seconds.GettyImagesJack Wilshere gave Arsenal the lead against Marseille after just 29 seconds.

A few weeks ago, Arsenal's squad was tracing-paper thin. Fans at the Emirates Stadium glanced nervously at a substitutes bench packed with teenagers and players who had appeared to have at least one foot out the door. However, the 2-0 victory over Marseille demonstrated a burgeoning strength in depth. Arsenal finally look as if they have a squad capable of competing on multiple fronts.

They have benefited from the return to fitness of several key players. Mikel Arteta missed the first six weeks of the season with a thigh injury in training, but is now back at his domineering best. Arsenal have also recently welcomed the wide pair of Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott back into the fold, increasing their firepower. At last, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners have ammunition to spare.

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Wenger made three alterations to his starting XI for this game -- but, tellingly, Arsenal looked no weaker for the changes. Kieran Gibbs missed out with illness, so Nacho Monreal came in for only his fourth start of the season. Monreal didn’t miss a beat. There are few reserve full-backs who are more accomplished than Monreal, and he showed all the class you’d expect of a fully-fledged Spanish international.

In midfield, Mathieu Flamini replaced Mikel Arteta. Flamini was every bit as feisty as Arsenal fans have come to expect, showing tigerish determination to ensure the Gunners were never without the ball for long.

In front of Flamini, Tomas Rosicky brought balance and energy to the midfield in place of Santi Cazorla. Not many players of Rosicky’s age actually increase the tempo of their team, but the Czech’s verve and stamina seem undiminished by injuries and time. The winter may be upon us, but this 33 year-old appears to be evergreen.

It was a younger man who was ultimately the match winner for Arsenal. Jack Wilshere seemed determined to stamp his authority on the game from the first whistle -- indeed, it took him only 30 seconds to open the scoring. Wilshere chased a ball down the right flank before cutting inside on to his left foot and bending the ball in to the far top corner.

It was an exquisite strike, and one that suggests Wilshere might be a useful option on the right-hand side in future. Deployed on the wing, he has both the freedom to drift infield and the space to avoid the hazardous hacks he can be subject to in the centre.

In footballing circles there is often outcry when a gifted Englishman such as Wilshere or Wayne Rooney is stationed on the wing, but it’s worth remembering that some of Europe’s most gifted playmakers have flourished on the flanks. The likes of David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Eden Hazard all play more regularly on wing than through the middle.

Arsenal should have been two goals to the good at half-time, but Mesut Ozil saw his penalty saved by Steve Mandanda. The German’s lackadaisical run-up was symptomatic of his recent malaise, but the miss seemed to spark him in to the life.

Keen to amend his error, Ozil found another gear and went on to become one of the game’s most influential players. He even created the second goal for Wilshere, collecting a delightful through-ball from Aaron Ramsey and squaring for the Englishman to tap home.

The fact that Wilshere, Arsenal’s outstanding player on the night, would not be guaranteed a place in Arsenal’s first choice team is proof positive of Wenger’s increasing multitude of options.

When Arsenal introduced Cazorla and Walcott with 20 minutes to go, their newfound strength in depth was dramatically underlined. Arsenal’s ranks have been swelled by reinforcements, and The Gunners finally look ready for battle.

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