Qualification to the knock-out stages of the Champions League was achieved last night in a game that really doesn’t merit a great deal of reporting.
Performance-wise it wasn’t exactly great from an Arsenal point of view. We got the job done but not without the now customary making it more difficult than it should have been part. We went in at half time 1-0 thanks to a Robin van Persie penalty. The award seemed a bit generous, I have to say, but it was good to see Robin dispatch it so confidently for his first goal of the season.
Beyond that it’s hard to remember us creating an opening in the first half. Chamakh and van Persie together look like a combination that will a fair few games to find an understanding, van Persie dropped deep constantly while service to Chamakh was patchy at best.
With the game crying out for the second goal so we could relax the second half became more frustrating as we really just didn’t click at all. Denilson played a great ball through the defence but Chamakh couldn’t control it, Nasri fired one over, and apart from that we spent a lot of time struggling to get beyond the Partizan defence. In and around their area it seemed to break down time and again.
Then they scored. Hardly unexpected. I mean, they’d been essentially crap all game and hadn’t had a shot on target – the perfect recipe for scoring against Arsenal with your first shot on goal. Neither of the centre-halves covered themselves in glory but Koscielny’s rash attempt to intercept left Squillaci with two men to cover. He was caught between closing down the man with the ball or covering the run and when he did choose to go to Cleo the shot deflected off him and past Fabianski. Weak in the centre again and no matter what Arsene says it’s not just a freak that we seem to concede with the opponent’s first chance – it’s because when we give chances away they’re the kind that any professional football really should take.
Having had enough of Arshavin falling over, giving it away and dribbling into tackles, the manager took him off and put Theo Walcott on. He added a bit of spark to our attack and when a Sagna cross wasn’t dealt with by the Partizan defence he calmly fired us 2-1 ahead. It was very nice finish from close range which showed good touch and composure.
Samir Nasri added the third after some lovely work between Song and Bendtner in their box. Nasri’s footwork was equally nimble and he fired home his 12th goal of the season. A player in the form of his life, according to the captain, and it’s hard to disagree. The sending off of Bacary Sagna with a couple of minutes to go was entirely the right decision. If it had been up the other end we’d have been looking for it. The Partizan man was through on goal, Sagna made no contact with the ball, the red card was the right decision. He’ll now serve a one game ban, missing the first leg of the first knockout game.
Goals, reaction and highlights can be found on the video page.
Finishing second in the group means that our draw is far more difficult than it might have been. It’s one of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Schalke. I know you have to play the big teams at some point but there’s still a sense of regret that we didn’t top this group after winning the first three games so well. Let’s be brutally honest about this – while Shaktar are a decent side with a good home record – both Braga and Partizan are mediocre at best.
The loss away in Portugal was hugely disappointing and should we get one of the Spanish teams in the next round we might well regret that night even more. I remember beating Real Madrid at their place on the way to the final in 05-6 but I’m not sure that was the best Madrid team of all time. Despite their hammering by Barcelona they have the Mourinho factor. A slimy, snide, cheating, cunthammer of a factor it might be but it’ll play a part. As for Barcelona, well, the idea of us trying to defend against them right now makes my bowels loosen.
Thankfully that game, should it happen, won’t take place right now and we’ve got until the new year to tighten up. Of course we could go to Germany too. I’d much rather Bratwurst than Chorizo. Schalke would be the ideal draw but then given our record against so called weaker teams this season … gah … I’m being too negative, I know. I just feel this is a group we should have won and I worry that the fact we didn’t might say more about our quality than our opponents.
Still, European football is about the games against the leading lights, the legendary continental teams, so regardless of how nervous I might feel you’ve got to love the fact we’re involved. Which I do. The draw for the knockout stages takes place next Friday. The ceremony begins and midday with the actual draw taking place at around 18.30 when all the UEFA twats have stopped talking.
The other downside to last night was yet another injury to Kieran Gibbs. He went over on his right ankle after about twenty minutes, tried to carry on but in the end was replaced by Emmanuel Eboue. He’s desperately unlucky, almost every time he gets a chance he ends up crocked in some way. Can whoever is cursing him please stop now? He’s suffered enough. He left the ground on crutches last night, hopefully more precautionary than anything else, but he’s going to be out for a little while I’d imagine.
Anyway, with Champions League qualification out of the way we can begin to look forward to the game against Man United. It’s strange having it on a Monday night, which means the weekend will be a bit less interesting than usual, but I suppose it’s so they hype it up to the max. What is interesting is that for the first time in a while it’s a genuine top of the table clash between us. Sure it’s only December but there are points to be won as well as points to be proved.
We can focus on that in the days ahead, as well as our potential team. Cesc has spoken about how he’s not going to take a risk with his hamstring and while it’d be a more difficult job without him I have to agree. Getting him properly fit is the most important thing. There’s still a long way to go and the season does not depend on Monday night’s game, even if it’s important to get something from it.
Finally, thanks to everyone for reading the live blog last night. I think we’ve managed to figure out a way of doing it that doesn’t break the entire internet. A positive step, for sure.
Plenty to come in the days ahead, back tomorrow with an Arsecast. Till then.