Champions League: Walcott missile ignites Arsenal Euro campaign

Frank Dalleres
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MANAGER Arsene Wenger backed Theo Walcott to rediscover his scoring habit after the forward’s first goal of the season set Arsenal on the way to three precious Champions League points and a club record 10th straight away win.

Walcott’s blistering 65th-minute volley broke the deadlock in Marseille and midfielder Aaron Ramsey continued his white-hot streak with the second six minutes from time.

Ramsey then conceded an injury-time penalty that Jordan Ayew dispatched, but it could not deny the Gunners a dream start to Group F, which also features big-hitters Borussia Dortmund and Napoli.

Wenger purred at a sixth consecutive victory this season and, having seen Walcott net 21 times last term, backed the England star to quickly add to his first of the current campaign.

“He scored the most difficult one of the chances he has had since the start of season and that will give him a needed boost,” said the Frenchman.

“It was important not to give away the first goal. We were a bit timid and in the second they dropped and we took advantage. Our victory was linked with patience and experience even if we weren’t flamboyant.”

Wenger called Ramsey’s record of seven goals from nine games for club and country “outstanding”, while the Welshman toasted a repeat of the same fixture two years ago, when he scored a decisive late goal.

“It’s vital,” he said. “We have a tough group so it was important to get three points and get off to a good start. We won here a couple of seasons ago – I got on scoresheet then and I’m sure this’ll be vital again.

“It was a difficult night, the pitch was sticky and slow so we couldn’t get rhythm in our passing, but in the end I think we deserved it.”

The Gunners were tipped to struggle in Group F but find themselves top, albeit on alphabetical order, after the first round, as big-spending Napoli beat last year’s runners-up Dortmund in Italy.

It night have been different had Marseille, second in Ligue 1 last term, been more ruthless in the first half, when Andre-Pierre Gignac and Andre Ayew both missed the target with good headed chances.

Full-back Rod Fanni and midfielder Dimitri Payet then shot just wide and too close to Wojciech Szczesny, but the home side’s increasing boldness soon allowed Arsenal to threaten on the counter.

Man of the match Kieran Gibbs and midfielder Jack Wilshere stung Steve Mandanda’s palms before Walcott capitalised on a fluffed defensive header to lash in a rasping opener.

Gibbs had also had to clear off the line when Per Mertesacker sliced a clearance over Szczesny, but Ramsey strode forward and fired low past Mandanda from 18 yards, via a slight deflection, to settle the result.