Arsenal FC set the wheels in motion on their UEFA Champions League campaign with a 2-1 victory at Olympique de Marseille as Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey fired the north London team to a hard-fought opening-day win.
Arsène Wenger's men visited the Stade Vélodrome chasing a club-record tenth consecutive away success in all competitions, yet they looked unlikely to attain it until Walcott unleashed a superbly taken strike on 65 minutes. The hosts had created the lion's share of the chances, but their hunt for at least a share of the spoils was ended by the in-form Ramsey with seven minutes remaining, despite Jordan Ayew's late penalty.
Élie Baup cast his side as the section's underdogs yesterday, yet there was nothing humble about the way they twice made Wojciech Szczęsny work early on. First, the Polish No1 had to grapple André-Pierre Gignac's flicked effort and moments later he plucked a Mathieu Valbuena shot out of the air, before his counterpart Steve Mandanda snaffled up a Walcott half-volley.
That was a rare attempt from Arsenal, however, and Marseille were harrying them with impressive energy, an approach augmented by Valbuena's quick feet and bright ideas in dangerous areas. Dimitri Payet was catching the eye too, and the French international almost served up the opener when his cross was headed wide by André Ayew.
Despite seeing more of the ball, the Gunners appeared rattled and, as the half drew to a close, Per Mertesacker had to cut out a dangerous cross destined for Ayew, with Gignac nodding too high from the subsequent corner. OM continued to take the fight to their opponents after the interval and threatened quickly as Rod Fanni then speared a bouncing ball acrobatically beyond the far post.
The home fans liked what they saw and kept up an impressive battery of noise, though Arsenal went close when Kieran Gibbs latched onto Mesut Özil's deft back-heel and drew a fine save from Mandanda. The match was now opening up delightfully, and after Szczęsny dived left to deny Payet, Mandanda kept out Jack Wilshere.
Gibbs then needed to head a sliced clearance from Mertesacker away from goal – but just as pressure looked to be building on the visitors, Jérémy Morel failed to deal with a Gibbs cross and Walcott volleyed high into the far corner.
Marseille's search for an equaliser inevitably passed through Valbuena, yet it was Ramsey who settled the contest with a low, deflected drive. The Welshman's night was not over, though, as he still had time to bring down André Ayew in the area, allowing the forward's brother Jordan to reduce the deficit.