And so, with Arsenal and Sevilla both winning, it is Sevilla that go through top of the group as the seeded team. Arsenal now face the spectre of facing Milan, Inter, Porto, Barcalona and Real Madrid.
And it’s all fine and dandy, let me tell you.
The match itself opened as current form did not expect – The first half was characterised by a slipstream of Arsenal attacks headed Steaua’s way, with Diaby finishing a lethal right side attack (after great work from Sagna) to remind everybody of a certain ‘Patrick’ and send the Gunners 1-0 up.
The match saw the return of another lauded Arsenal player; the Dutchman Robin van Persie was flip-flapping his way past defenders very stylishly, and was picking out passes as if he had not been missing at all. Arsenal finally capped their dominance with a slick finish from the irrepressible Bendtner, and went into the break 2-0.
Arsenal began to coast in the second half, with van Persie being replaced by Eduardo on 64 minutes, and paid for taking their foot off the gas when Steaua scored a ‘looping’ header (is that a euphemism?) past Lehmann (who will not be playing against Chelsea) to claw the Romanians back into the game.
The goal itself did Lehmann no favours in his bid to grab his spot back, and was also a kick in the teeth to those (I name no names) who say Almunia is little more than a clown. What Almunia cant save, Lehmann cant save…more.
A very scant match report, if you can even call it that, seeing as I had only Eurosport text updates to watch it by. Nevertheless, it is a very encouraging win, with a good first-half display putting faith back into the backup our squad has, and some feel-good factor ahead of the all-important Chelsea clash.
Robin van Persie and Diaby’s return was very encouraging, and both showed excellent vision and good finishing respectively. Bendtner continues to dot the good i’s and cross the right t’s, and is certainly knocking on the door – expect him to prove excellent backup should more injuries or suspensions come their way.
A final note goes to Theo Walcott. On a few occasions, his final touch let him down quite badly tonight. Having said that – and I ask that you recall his recent thoughts on Wenger’s advice to him – he definitely showed blistering pace and gumption in the opening stages of the match that really did unsettle the visitors. It was an encouraging display that will see him push for a spot on the bench for Sunday. That sentence alone justifies to me the depth this team really does have, in spite of the criticisms leveled at the backup in recent matches.
Of course, we are now confirmed as (only) second in our group, and we’re on our way to facing the big names of European football. Canvassing the fans opinions, not many seem too daunted, if at all, by the prospect of facing the Milans and Real’s of the world.
Certainly, the only sticky fixture I can identify is Porto FC, of all teams – they are annoyingly difficult to beat at home. Consider that whoever we play, our final leg is away from home, and all the other, ‘bigger’ teams actually look like more decent proposals.
The teams that stand to have a lesson handed out to them are Inter, Real Madrid and AC Milan. Those doped up by smart-ass shirt sales may think Im delirious, but the fact remains that Inter Milan never play anyone decent in their own league, and when they play decent European opposition (Fenerbache – believe it or not, are doing fantastically well), they play rather attrociously. They’re almost as slow on the ball as AC Milan, who – illustrious name aside – are ageing, slow, and their crown for keep-ball is fast being overtaken by ourselves and Manchester United.
Real Madrid are the real tiger who we’d all raise our game for, but Robinho and van Nistelrooi aside, their team can be caught out with fast passing and harrying their complacency on the ball. Barca, of course, have their weaknesses – but dear lord, that would be a fantastic draw for all spectators.
A full preview of the teams will come about next Friday, 21 December, when the draw is being made. Moving back to team newsRobin van Persie has spoken about how happy he is to return to the side, after a rather lengthy absence. Alongside him was Wenger, who was impressed with the side’s showing, and reiterated that the side ‘fear no-one’, and are gearing up to play all and sundry. The manager says:
“I believe and am highly confident we can beat anyone. I have a great belief in my players and in their ability to get better. They will be even better in February. Van Persie looked sharp; his eye and passing were there. He just needs to regain his confidence in challenges, but it looks like he has never been out. He was very lively in the first half, like the team he was a bit quieter in the second.“
To wrap up the team news, it’s a little blurb to mention that Emmanuel Adebayor has been shortlisted for African player of the year. It will more than likely go to Drogba (deservedly, one must say), but the shortlist does highlight the enormous quality that is coming out of the mother continent these days.
In other news, Lampard has said Chelsea – even without Drogba – will ‘rip Arsenal apart‘ on Sunday. Please, please, please Mr Wenger – pin that one up in the dressing room. Finally, it seems it may be time to forget about Luka Modric for now, with the player revealing he may prefer to go to Spain instead of England. Weeping, I tell you.
And that’s about it. Something to be happy with (the win, that is), and to keep the chins sticking up high. The serious business of previewing Chelsea begins in earnest tomorrow.
We may just continue surprising people. At this present time, that will remain a pleasant surprise. I depart, in eager anticipation…