LONDON (Reuters) - Jack Wilshere scored twice, the first after 30 seconds, as Group F leaders Arsenal beat Olympique Marseille 2-0 on Tuesday but have yet to secure a Champions League last 16 place.
Arsenal, with four wins in five matches, head the group with 12 points followed by Borussia Dortmund, whose 3-1 win over Napoli leaves both sides on nine. Marseille have none after five straight defeats.
Arsenal’s last match on Dec 11 is away to Napoli while Dortmund visit Marseille meaning Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli could all finish with 12 points in which case results between the three would decide who advances to the last 16.
As long as Arsenal do not lose by three goals or more they will qualify for the knockout rounds for the 14th successive season, but it means Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will have to take a strong team to Napoli next month.
“It is unbelievable, but it’s reality and we have to finish the job. It’s a tricky situation. You could think, ‘we must not lose big’ but I think that would be a mistake,” Wenger told reporters afterwards.
“We have to go there and try and win the game because otherwise it is a huge gamble.
“I have never known anything like it in my 150 Champions League matches.”
Arsenal were vastly superior to a Marseille team already out of contention with coach Elie Baup fielding a number of younger inexperienced players while resting his senior men for their French League exploits.
“We did play with some younger players and it was a good experience for them, even though we were on the back foot from the first minute after conceding that goal,” Baup said afterwards.
“Arsenal were better than us over the two games but we had players of 19 and 20 playing today and they have learnt the demands of the top level, what it takes to play in the Champions League.”
Wilshere put Arsenal ahead with a clever curler and added a second in the 65th minute after a superb move with the final pass exquisitely played by Mesut Ozil, who missed a first-half penalty.
After taking such an early lead Arsenal took the game to their opponents playing with a confident swagger that should have produced more goals in a largely one-sided match.
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey should have doubled their lead after another fine flowing move orchestrated by Wilshere but he fired straight at goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Then Ozil wasted a golden opportunity with a poor spot kick after 38 minutes.
It was debatable whether Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz called the decision correctly as Nicolas N’Koulou’s foul on Ramsey appeared to be just outside the area.
Ozil though, off a three-step run-up, shot low and weakly to Mandanda’s right and the keeper saved comfortably.
“Anyone can miss a penalty, but his run-up was very short,” Wenger wryly observed afterwards.
Marseille gradually played their way back into the game after the break and Baup increased his attacking options with half an hour to play with the introduction of France international Mathieu Valbuena and impressive young striker Florian Thauvin in place of midfielders Jordan Ayew and Giannelli Imbula.
But, despite having more of the play for a spell, Marseille went further behind when Wilshere made it 2-0 after being left unmarked with only Mandanda to beat.
The only blot of an otherwise straightforward victory for Arsenal was Wenger expressing a dim view with midfielder Mathieu Flamini for cutting down the long sleeves of his shirt making them short ones.
“I did not like that. He will not do it again,” Wenger said.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Tony Goodson