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Arsenal wasted a chance to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, being held by Marseille in the stalest of stalemates at the Emirates. Arsène Wenger’s side will still expect to progress but, as with the finishing here, this was a missed opportunity.

The main positive for Arsenal was an assured performance at centre-back from Thomas Vermaelen. Although Arsenal have been on a good run of late, their defence has hardly impressed and the Belgian brought organisation, even an offside trap.

In a game that will not linger long in the memory, Aaron Ramsey played well, while Carl Jenkinson largely coped well with the intermittent menace of Andre Ayew. There remained a feeling of what might have been, of what might have happened if Robin van Persie had been on from the start.

Such had been Arsenal’s lack of cutting edge in the first half that it was little surprise when home fans stood in salute of Robin van Persie as he warmed up at the start of the second period. At 26, Ju-Young Park is hardly in the “one for the future” bracket but he was too hesitant during his hour’s shift. A huge cheer went up when Van Persie arrived for the Korean.

As the game between Group F’s favourites meandered towards the interval, there had still been moments to command the attention, notably out wide. Arsenal’s new left-back, Andre Santos, continues to be a strength and a weakness.

He pushed on frequently, inevitably leaving space for Marseille to target. Didier Deschamps’ side should have scored early on after Santos was caught of position. Loïc Rémy charged into space, crossing low and hard. Andre Ayew stole a half-yard on Carl Jenkinson but poked his shot wide. Jenkinson, the right-back, largely did well against the elder of the two Ayews on view.

Arsenal were taking time to settle, Park and Theo Walcott guilty of giving away the ball. Yet there is such pace in this Arsenal side, lending them such a threat on the break. When Gervinho charged through the middle, Walcott peeled right and was quickly in possession. The England international, whose weekend strike against Chelsea was hailed by Van Persie as like a “Diego Maradona goal” connected powerfully enough with the ball but Mandanda diverted it wide.

Santos continued to raid down the left, Arsenal appealing for a penalty when the Brazilian’s cross was handled by Souleymane Diawara, the former Charlton Athletic defender. The Italian referee, Paolo Tagliavento, who was given no help by the additional assistant referee behind the goal, indicated a free-kick to Arsenal’s frustration.

Moments of skill spiced proceedings. Wojciech Szczesny executed a Cruyff turn to escape Jordan Ayew’s attentions. Arsenal, who almost seemed to be waiting for Van Persie, briefly raised their tempo, sweeping forward in a series of attacks. Gervinho demanded a save from Mandanda. Vermaelen muscled his way through midfield. Yet there was still worrying moments at the back. Per Mertesacker, who has still to convince since his arrival, headed straight out to Mathieu Valbuena, whose shot might have troubled a lesser keeper than Szczesny.

In midfield, Aaron Ramsey was maintaining his recent good form, using the ball sensibly, occasionally breaking into the box. He really should have done better then send a right-footed volley wide, wasting another Santos run. The Wales captain was then thwarted by two interceptions from Nicolas N’Koulou, the Cameroonian centre-half.

Ramsey almost forced the breakthrough with a downward header saved by Mandanda, following good approach work by Park and Walcott. It was a real “nearly” half.

Marseille almost scored shortly before the break. Valbuena, who had tormented England at Wembley last season, produced a fine pass to release Rémy but Vermaelen again came to Arsenal’s rescue. Even with Santos playing the wandering star, Arsenal’s defence looked better organised with Vermaelen at its heart.

Even with Van Persie arriving, Vermaelen retained the armband. The game struggled along, even with Van Persie involved. Some goalmouth action arose. Szczesny needed to speed swiftly out to end one Marseille attack with his head. Van Persie contributed defensively, heading away an effort from Benoit Cheyrou.

Van Persie then demonstrated his creative side, darting down the inside-left channel and attempting to chip Mandanda, who had emerged from his lair to meet the danger. Van Persie just underclubbed, allowing the French international keeper to catch the ball.

Deschamps sent on Lucho González for the low-key Valbuena but Vermaelen marshaled his defence well. As a poor game entered its last 10 minutes, Andre Ayew headed wide before Lucho was similarly off-target with a low shot.

As the Marseille fans urged their team on, Lucho sped down the right, tracked frantically by Mikel Arteta as Santos was still upfield. Lucho progressed into the box and Arsenal were grateful to Mertesacker, who read the substitute’s intentions and cleared.

An element of frustration seeped into Arsenal’s play. Tomas Rosicky was booked for catching Andre Ayew. Arsenal rallied for one last push.

Arteta lifted over a corner that Mandanda punched clear. Marseille sought a winner, and Vermaelen again impressed by stopping a French attack, this time thwarting the substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac.

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