Arsenal's record signing missed from the spot against Marseille but made amends with a killer ball and an improved display
Arsenal are all but through to the knockout stages of the Champions League after a victory against a supine Marseille team who presented themselves at the Emirates not so much as elite European opponents as a set of turquoise-coloured training cones.
If there was encouragement to be taken from fine performances by Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, who will take the headlines after scoring twice, there will also be mild concern at another muted performance from Mesut Özil, who missed a first-half penalty and fluttered vaguely for large parts of the match.
Arsenal's record signing remains a beautifully balletic physical specimen, and a player of genuinely high-ceilinged incision, as he showed in his pass for Wilshere's second goal. But he is also an elusive presence currently. It has been said Özil was allowed to play in bursts at Real Madrid, producing his decisive moments of influence in short spells, where at Arsenal he is expected to dictate the play in every match.
At Madrid his season began with four games in 26 days: at Arsenal, up to the defeat at Old Trafford, he played four times in a fortnight. There is at the very least a process of adjustment to be made, a more concussive kind of pressure. Either way Özil remained a persistent but soft-pedalled creative influence here, on an evening when Wilshere, by contrast, produced his most convincing performance since returning to fitness.
It was an oddly subdued Emirates before kick-off, a sense of vague torpor that was lifted after 33 seconds by a spectacular, and spectacularly simple opening goal. Wilshere may have been helped by some horrible defending – the free run in on goal from the right, followed by a formal embossed invitation from Jérémy Morel to step inside on to his stronger foot. But what a finish it was, the ball not so much dinked into the top corner as persuaded, fizzing with backspin, across Steve Mandanda and into the far top corner.
At this early stage Marseille's left flank wasn't so much wide open as a kind of footballing Woodstock, a free-for-all policed only by the gesticulating Elie Baup, a touchingly helpless figure in his ill-advised turquoise shellsuit. Marseille have long since become the riderless horse in this group, out of the race themselves but in theory still capable of tripping somebody else before the finish line. With 15 minutes gone they were at least running at testimonial speed, the midfield dropping off far enough to allow Ramsey to produce an outrageous Baggio-style scoop pass over a dozing defence.
The player on the receiving end was Özil. He might have run in to shoot on goal. Instead the ball ran away off his shin as briefly Arsenal's record signing appeared to be playing in waders. It has been a laughably swift turnaround in some sections of the punditry classes from patron saint of the snake-hipped assist to flat-track bully, but even Arsène Wenger is willing to concede that Özil's levels have dipped a little. Perhaps he will be helped by the return of Theo Walcott, who was again on the bench here.
At Madrid Özil's best moments were often bound up in exploiting with a sniper's eye movement from the wings of Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di María, and Walcott is, above all, an agent of decompression, a player whose speed forces an opposition to defend on the turn.
Özil continued to flicker in the first half as the match meandered along strangely, both teams apparently under the illusion Arsenal were already 5-0 up. There was a sense of due relief after 38 minutes as Ramsey earned a penalty with a lovely piece of skill. Özil stepped up to take it with an insouciance that, in the second he dummied over the ball, congealed abruptly into uncertainty. He blinked first. Mandanda stayed on his feet.
The kick was palmed away. Moments later there was a glimpse of a brilliant quick footed switch of angle as Özil was fouled on the edge of the box. Would he step up and slam the free kick redemptively into the bottom corner? No. He would not.
For all this Özil is a champion player and here he kept on coming despite his moments of uncertainty. Ten minutes into the second half he sprinted on to a flick from Oliver Giroud and shot powerfully only to see Mandanda again save.
There was even a moment of genuine Özil-ism about the pass that allowed Wilshere to score Arsenal's second with 25 minutes left, his pass across the face of the defence the most gently insistent of invitations to score.
Özil left the pitch with nine minutes remaining to an ovation that was encouraging rather than rapt. He played with heart here if only occasionally with precision. It is a sign of Arsenal's midfield riches that in Ramsey and Wilshere, who looked encouragingly mobile here throughout, they had more than enough in reserve.