Once again, Arsenal's place in the draw for the Champions League knockout stages feels like an annual part of the fixture calendar. They won this game with something to spare and there is surely too much confidence rippling through this side to believe they will fritter it all away now. Arsène Wenger's team will have made it 14 years in a row if they can avoid a three-goal defeat in their final match against Napoli.
A trip to the whistling, fire-cracking Stadio San Paolo is always a test of nerve but Wenger's men have already outplayed the Italians once. The Premier League leaders did what many people thought was beyond them in their last European excursion, at the home of Borussia Dortmund, and they made light work of overcoming Marseille on a night when the one-sidedness was not reflected by their inability to add to Jack Wilshere's two goals.
The first arrived after 33 seconds, the quickest goal scored by an Englishman in the Champions League, and Wilshere made the game safe midway through the second half. In between, Mesut Özil's penalty was saved and Arsenal racked up more chances than they would probably want to remember. Wilshere now has four goals in his last eight Arsenal appearances while Aaron Ramsey continues to show he is maturing as a player. They will go to Naples in high confidence, knowing a draw would guarantee winning the group and potentially mean avoiding Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the next stage. With 12 points already, Wenger described it as "unbelievable" they had not already qualified.
"It is the first time I have seen that in over 150 Champions League games. But it is a reality and we have to finish the job," he said. "It is not an easy situation. It is tricky because you could think: 'OK, we just don't lose big.' That would be a mistake. We need to put it into our heads to play in a positive way and try to win the game. Everything else would be a dangerous gamble."
Of the win, the Arsenal manager added: "We were in control and never really under threat. Maybe we missed the cutting edge to finish the game off early, but we felt so much in control that we just played on thinking the second goal will come. It came a bit late for my taste, but it came."
Marseille were certainly obliging opponents. The fourth-placed team in Ligue 1 had lost all five games in Group F and did not manage a shot on target until the 76th minute. Their manager, Elie Baup, had used this occasion to rest his better players and they could have been on the end of a thrashing had Arsenal been more ruthless. Ramsey, inside the six-yard area, could not take the kind of chance he has been happily finishing off all season and Özil, of all people, was let down by his first touch when the Welshman flicked a clever up-and-under over the visiting defence. That, to put it into context, was all inside the opening 18 minutes.
Özil looked a little disconsolate when he was substituted late on, though he did set up Wilshere's second with a lovely pass off the outside of his left boot. Wilshere had started as a left-footed right-winger, coming in off the flank, but he and Özil both had the licence to roam. Tomas Rosicky was not tied down to one spot either and, with Ramsey breaking forward as well as Olivier Giroud's considerable presence, Marseille were overwhelmed from the moment Bacary Sagna's first touch of the night sent Wilshere running clear. Darting into the penalty area, Wilshere turned inside the next opponent, Lucas Mendes. One touch steadied himself, the next clipped a lovely, curling shot into the top right-hand corner.
The Spanish referee, Antonio Lahoz, had already missed a pretty obvious penalty decision, Mendes yanking Giroud to the floor, by the time he penalised Nicolas N'Koulou's challenge on Ramsey. The contact had actually been marginally outside the penalty area, not that Marseille seemed particularly aggrieved. Yet Özil never looked fully confident. The deception of stuttering his run did not work and Steve Mandanda dived to his right to turn the ball away.
Against a superior team, the miss might have brought a sense of foreboding to this stadium. Arsenal simply set about re-asserting their authority after the break. At times, their crossing was disappointing, with Sagna and Rosicky both putting the ball straight out of play in a matter of minutes. Marseille were so ordinary the home side could get away with these kind of little imperfections before, finally, everyone could relax. Arsenal, applying near-incessant pressure, advanced again. Ramsey played the through-ball to Özil and, running into the penalty area, it was a deft little pass to pick out Wilshere, surging through the middle to continue his improved run of scoring.