Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday October 3 2007
I suppose it depends what you look for in the beautiful game, but I must say I have been surprised by the lukewarm appraisal of our performance in Romania. There really was only ever one team in this game, I thought Steaua, whilst stoic and resolute, look scared of us and I never doubted that we would win this game. Indeed, the commentators in the closing minutes of the game were waxing lyrical about our style of play being atypical of your hard fought, ugly Eastern European win. But suddenly changed their minds at the final whistle and decided that we had won ugly.
I suppose I'm just not used to the fickle wants of the average commentator, watching Arsenal on television is a bit of a new phenomenon for me. Unfortunately, my match reports for our away group encounters will all offer a view from my armchair. Having just secured a new job, I was hardly in a position to request leave in my first week for this one! But I'll be back jet setting again for the knockout stages, rest assured!
Arsenal set their stall out for an early goal, and as Steaua packed their midfield, they appeared to neglect defence, leaving Adebayor and van Persie to wreak havoc on the backline. As early as the third minute, Hleb jinked past his full back and delivered a cross which landed at the feet of van Persie, who I fancy was tripped in the area in a furious scramble. ITV4 did not provide a replay of the incident. But Bucuresti looked game and fought fire with fire, a pinpoint cross from Surdu on the right saw Toure get sucked in at the front post, leaving Badea with a free header. Fortunately, his composure deserted him as he got woefully underneath his header, shouldering the ball over the bar. Two minutes later, the home side appeared tot ake the lead, Nicolita's free kick was headed in from close range by Surdu, but the winger was a good yard offside, Toure this time stepping up with confidence and precision. The decision to make him captain in Gallas' absence looks to have been a good one, despite my pre season protestations. He has realised a new sense of responsibility and is now looking every bit an organiser and motivator. We already knew he was a top class defender, but the armband has added another string to his bow. I hope that sense of responsibility does not diminish once Gallas returns and he relinquishes the captaincy.
Arsenal responded to the scare positively, propelling forward on the counter attack, van Persie beautifully feinted his way around Baciu and drove in a low cross which Hleb controlled on the back post and squared for Fabregas, who blazed over with the goal whimpering at his mercy. Arsenal began to assume control after a haphazard start, their dominance briefly broken by a low 30 yard drive from Dica which whistled narrowly wide. Thereafter, Steaua appeared to shrink into their shell, expecting the inevitable Arsenal goal. Adebayor looked very dangerous with his pentrative running over the top, the home side merely resorting to hacking the ball aimlessly upfield at every opportunity. Some intricate play on the egde of the box from Robin van Persie played in Emmanuel Adebayor, but he elected to pass when the shot would have been better, Bucuresti managed to clear. Arsenal's momentum gathered as they searched for a goal before half time, Fabregas found Clichy in oceans on the left after some crisp passing in the midfield, Clichy's cross was deflected goalwards, but Zapita just managed to prevent it crossing the line. Just two minutes later, Arsenal were once again on the edge of the Romanian box, Fabregas playing the ball into Flamini, he turned and shot but his effort was clawed away.
The Gunners' didn't get their goal before half time and looked to have taken their eye of the task for much of the second half. Hleb appeared to tire, and Fabregas' passes were uncharacteristically misplaced, though his constant foraging forward gave the home side plenty to think about. It was a Fabregas free kick that gave Arsenal their next opportunity, flighting in another concise delivery from the left which Adebayor looked certain to head in, but couldn't quite stretch his neck muscles sufficiently enough to make contact. Zapita missed his punch, but luckily for him the ball stayed out via his wavering legs. It was a kind of accidental scorpion. Steaua once again redoubled and nearly scored a minute later, Almunia came out of his area to clear a long ball with his head, the ball landed at the feet of Dica who lobbed a long effort towards goal, but the ever vigilant Kolo Toure was back on the line to avert the danger.
This marked probably our sloppiest period of the game, bar the probing running of Adebayor, Arsenal looked insipid and the home side had their tales up. This almost culminated in Bucuresti in the lead, Dica's ball saw Iacob about a yard offside, but the assistant amazingly waved play on. Iacob looked about as comfortable as a virgin in a brothel as he staggered towards goal, attempting a daft chip from twenty yards which never troubled the goal. Arsenal took the hint and five minutes later, Hleb played Adebayor down the left channel, the Togolese striker attempted a cut back to Fabregas, but the ball sloped behind him and onto van Persie's left foot. There was only ever one result and the Dutchman deftly curled the ball into the top corner with a mixture of precision and power. Steaua simply did not have the minerals to attempt a comeback, so Arsenal indulged in a little keep ball. Adebayor's spin and shot saw the Gunners' nearly double their lead late on, but the damge had been done and Arsenal had achieved a perfect result coupled with an accomplished performance. It's probably a measure of how well we're playing at the moment that people seem to be filing this under 'playing badly and winning.' I felt that this was not our best, but a very decent away performance. We dominated throughout, looked solid at the back and got a deserved win. There's not really much more you can ask for.LD.
Date:Wednesday October 3 2007
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