Gunners firing blanks without Van Persie
Robin van Persie's absence made the hearts of Arsenal fans grow fonder as the feast of Chelsea was followed by famine in his absence against Marseille.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, with a caution shaped by Van Persie's chequered injury history, restricted the hat-trick hero of Saturday's 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge to the role of substitute rather than offer him the full Champions League experience at Emirates Stadium.
And in doing so, Wenger laid bare the dilemma that will face him and his team as the importance - some might say indispensability - of Van Persie was exposed by this drab draw that denied Arsenal the opportunity to secure early qualification from the group phase.
Wenger said starting Robin van Persie on the bench was "a gamble that didn't come off". Photo: Getty
Wenger explained the thinking behind his decision not to start Van Persie as he said: "It was a gamble. You can say tonight that it didn't come off. Robin was tired, that's why I left him out. It was down to fatigue. He cannot play 50 games."
There is sound logic in Wenger's argument, although hindsight suggests a better ploy might have been to start with Van Persie and use the wave of brilliant form he is currently riding to apply early pressure to Marseille in an attempt to establish a winning position before removing him.
Instead, the arrival of the team-sheet more or less set the tone for the evening. Arsenal's fans turned up on a high after Saturday but there was an almost instant sense of deflation when he was only listed among the substitutes.
Van Persie received a roar markedly more resounding than any of his team-mates when his name was read out, while even a gentle jog down the touchline, especially in one the many turgid passages during this group game, was greeted like the arrival of a conquering hero.
It was almost as if this game would not be complete until Van Persie made his entrance, which he did just after the hour. But when he arrived the pattern was set and Arsenal had lost momentum to such an extent that even he was unable to effect a change.
On the field at least, in the absence of injured Jack Wilshere and even with the rapidly developing Aaron Ramsey, Van Persie carries the hopes of this club.
It is disrespectful to those two talents and others besides to suggest Arsenal are a one-man team, but there is no doubt Van Persie's quality means he now wields a lop-sided influence.
So while there must be full understanding of the balancing act Wenger has to perform with this precious but occasionally fragile talent, it was a night that emphatically underlined why Van Persie now lines up just behind his manager as Arsenal's most influential figure.
And it also illustrated the potential consequences should Van Persie suffer more frailty with his fitness. At the sharp end of Arsenal's game the Netherlands striker is starting to look irreplaceable, especially when statistics such as 28 goals in his last 27 Premier League games and 33 in his last 37 all told are presented.
Van Persie may have missed Arsenal's best chance of the game 13 minutes from time when he failed to get enough height on his attempted chip over Marseille keeper Steve Mandanda, but he carries an air of menace no other striker at Wenger's disposal comes close to giving off.
Gervinho was hard-working but unsure of touch against Marseille, while the South Korean Ju-Young Park looked a work in progress, off the pace and a marginal figure.
Andrey Arshavin emerged as a substitute with no impact and has undergone a rapid decline in performances, while the injured Marouane Chamakh's recent displays have provoked the jibe that he is the free transfer that looks increasingly like a waste of money.
Should Van Persie suffer an absence of any length - and his class alone means no-one with Arsenal or the Premier League's best interests at heart would want this - that particular cupboard looks bare.
Wenger would have to mix-and-match should that happen and even then he may have to consider strengthening in January, never the ideal time to add real quality to a club with ambitions in the Champions League and Premier League.
At least, while Wenger keeps his fingers crossed that his finest player stays in his current rude health, Arsenal kept a clean sheet despite a disappointing performance and remain in control at the top of their Champions League group.
They will have high hopes of topping the group and avoiding the most hazardous opponents in the knockout phase, while another player of great importance returned to show his quality.
Thomas Vermaelen was captain in Van Persie's absence and showed the authority that has been sorely missed in his battle to recover from an Achilles injury.
He coaxed a more assured performance from his central defensive partner Per Mertesacker, and a happier conundrum for Wenger will be how to accommodate that pair and Laurent Koscielny, outstanding at Chelsea but sitting alongside Van Persie on the bench on Tuesday.
The Belgian may yet end up at left-back as Andre Santos once again showed he is a real talent with the ball at his feet but has a very loose interpretation of his description as a defender. The Brazilian, still looking short of fitness, covers plenty of ground but much of it is when he is out of position.
Santos is a wing-back masquerading as a left-back, too prone to indisciplined runs upfield and too often the cause of gaping holes on the left side of Arsenal's defence. He is, to put it kindly, a free spirit when it comes to positioning.
He will undoubtedly be fun, but Wenger's task is to harness natural gifts on the ball to the structure of his team to ensure he is fun in a good way for Arsenal.
No serious damage was done to Arsenal's Champions League aspirations by this result but it was an opportunity missed to confirm qualification.
This can be achieved with a point at home to Borussia Dortmund later this month, but history and last season's exit to Barcelona will tell Wenger finishing at the head of Group F has to be top priority.
Van Persie is central to all those ambitions as the one reliable, ruthless attacking weapon Wenger has in his armoury.
Arsenal supporters, understandably frustrated on Tuesday, may point to the talent elsewhere in Wenger's squad but reality, the sort of reality they saw against Marseille, will tell them Van Persie is the man they need to stay fit.