A new captain, a new Chief Executive and, if not quite a new epoch, a few of the grey clouds that were threatening to burst over Arsenal skies have reverted to a slightly paler shade of white this morning. Eyes wandered in two general directions in the build up to the game, the deposed and the appointed, Fabregas and Gallas returned after missing the aberration at Eastlands, but with the overthrown King William serving under the watch of General Cesc for the first time. With confidence at an all time low, details of in fighting released and nine first team players missing against a defence that had not conceded in their other two away matches in the group, it was always going to be a tough night. Wenger did not go with Merida on the left as had been whispered around the ground before kick off, predictably preferring to play two central midfielders on the flanks in the shape of the growing Ramsey and Denilson. Carlos Vela came in for the misfiring Bendtner; sadly I`ve a feeling that was as mush to do with the crowd sapping the Dane`s low confidence as much as giving Vela a chance.
The game began with thousands of empty seats again glaringly apparent, if people are going to sulk like babies and not go because of a couple of defeats, can they not at least give their ticket to someone who does want to go? The club have a thoroughly decent ticket exchange programme and I`m not sure there`s an office in the capital that doesn`t have at least one Gooner solicitously eyeing any spares. Gallas` first touch was booed by a couple of idiots behind me, some strongly worded advice followed from yours truly, the fact that nobody else joined in with their immature idiocy meant that, just like a skulking child shrinking in the playground, they shut their traps. I`d like to have seen their faces when Gallas` name was chanted by the Red Section soon after. Predictably, the game was largely a lifeless affair in the first half, with little in the way of natural width and a wall of Kyiv players ahead, the Gunners did not have the spark or the speed to break Kyiv down. The away side had done their homework, sit ten behind the ball and watch Arsenal produce a sum total of a pass every ten seconds, followed by the player in possession stroking his chin, correcting the wind resistance before moving the ball on an eternity later. Denilson in particular is a player who takes far more touches than necessary in possession anyway, so with him moved out to the left flank, his need to cut back onto his right foot enervated his ponderous play further. Vela and Ramsey looked our most lively players, looking to take the game to Kyiv.
Indeed, it was those two players who combined for the first real opportunity of the match; Vela drifted out to the left and drilled in a wicked ball to the back post which Ramsey blasted over when van Persie was well placed for the cut back. Van Persie had a comfortably saved shot and Gallas had a goal disallowed, but there was little else of note that Arsenal could produce. On 35 minutes, it was the away side who could have taken the lead, Gallas chased Bangoura down on our right hand side, dispossessed him, before losing concentration and allowing Bangoura to wrest possession back, Bangoura made a beeline for goal at a narrow angle and curled his shot onto the outside of the post. Arsenal`s best chance came in the dying embers of a listless half, van Persie whipped in a dangerous free kick from the right, which Silvestre could only help over with his knee from five yards out.
It was a frustrating half in the biting winter air, Kyiv were exceptionally well drilled and the Gunners could not find the inspiration to break them down. The second half was not a great deal different, notable in the first twenty minutes of the half only for a hilarious and shameless piece of play acting from Olexandr Aliyev, who rolled histrionically on the ground as Arsenal had the ball, but dramatically sprang to his feet with no pretence the instant Kyiv won the ball back and mounted an attack. If you haven`t seen it, look the clip up on You Tube or some other such site, it really is magnificent. Ironically, whilst Arsenal could not find a way through in open play, we looked our most portentous from set plays with Bohush looking uncomfortable with aerial deliveries. He made a hash of a Fabregas in swinger from the left and the ball fell to van Persie, he lashed his first shot at the prone keeper, the rebound fell to van Persie again and his effort was deflected away by William Gallas. The ball looked to be drifting just wide, though Gallas` intervention was obstructive. Not for the first time this week you could say.
Ramsey and Vela made way for Wilshere and Bendtner, the exuberance of youth being replaced by, well, even more youth. But it was Almunia who would make the next priceless intervention. Bangoura hooked a ball in the direction of Milevskiy with an impediment Gunners defence waiting for a flag that never came, Almunia was alert and out to block. With the clock running down and hope looking lost, Machiavellian intervention would arrive from the skipper. With Djourou hurt, the referee halted play with Arsenal in possession. The referee dropped the ball inviting Kyiv to play it back to Almunia, Fabregas told the Ukrainian player not to worry, intimating he would do it himself. He half turned to return the ball to his keeper, before taking a stolen touch and delivering a whipping sixty yard ball to Bendtner with Kyiv napping, Bendtner controlled before smashing the ball past Bohush and into the net. Kyiv went berserk in light of Fabregas` underhandedness, if the goal had been a party, it would have been at Jose Mourinho`s house……and John Terry would have been spiking the drinks. I wasn`t particularly enamoured with the manner of the goal, it was duplicitous and dishonest, but I`ll be truthful, I still celebrated it vociferously. What`s that old saying about starving people willingly eating dried crusts? Welcome to the psyche of a football supporter, we`re as fickle as a bipolar schizophrenic Gemini. I hope those that booed Bendtner off against Villa were more measured in their celebrations. Kyiv took umbrage and Aliyev got himself sent off for pushing the referee in disgust, before seemingly going back for more after the card had been shown. It should see him earn a lengthy ban. The final whistle was welcome with the points securing our place in the knockout rounds. Gallas walked straight down the tunnel (though he did acknowledge the support), I suppose we can`t expect him to be full of mirth and smiles at the moment. He came in and did his job and that`s all one can ask. There`s little point in pulling this game apart forensically, it`s one of those games where you take the points and not a lot else. At the moment, that will do nicely.LD.