Arsenal 3 Celtic 1
With the matter of fact ease with which Arsenal negotiated the first leg and the comfort of a two goal cushion, this game always felt more like a precession than a contest. Scottish football is reeling in a financial straitjacket and the fact is that the Auld Firm sides are no longer as fearsome as their reputations suggest- this would have to go for the supporters too. Celtic`s fans were not even approaching the cauldron of vocal hostility portrayed by the media- to point out they comfortably out sung the home fans last night is to damn them with feint praise. Having seen them at close quarters in both legs, they really are no louder than any other set of home or away fans in the country. Those that complain about the lack of singing at Arsenal`s home matches would struggle to point to a set of fans in Britain with which to sketch a paradigm. Scores of empty seats were again visible throughout the game, though I managed to miss the first two minutes because around three quarters of the turnstiles in my "quadrant" were closed causing some uncomfortable bottle necking. Nobody ever did explain why. There again, I probably shouldn`t complain, one of my best friends went to Upton Park alone on Tuesday night- he never did actually make it into his seat in the away end, preferring instead to turn around and go home.
Pre match Wenger talked up the importance of the match, refuting suggestions that he would select his team with a wandering away gallivanting towards this Saturday. The fact that he left van Persie and Arshavin on the bench belied that suggestion. There would be further verbal Gerry-mandering to come from the manager later. I can only imagine as to how Myles Palmer would have reacted having seen that Arshavin F.C was left on the bench, I imagine he would have stormed out of the ground in a performative teenage strop- like a girl who`s just been told her favourite boy band has split up. Despite the fact that Fabregas, van Persie and Arshavin looked on from the outside a la Camus` Mersault, Arsenal always looked to strong for Celtic. They flexed their pectoral muscles in the eight minute when Denilson`s intelligent ball into the left channel found the metronomic Clichy bombing forward; he cut the ball inside to Eboue and the African Kaka in turn cut the ball inside to Bendtner who prodded towards goal, Boruc clawed the ball out and Eduardo slid in but contrived to guide the ball wide of the upright from close range. Arsenal began to rap hungrily on Celtic`s door again when Eboue played a one two with Denilson on the edge of the box, the Brazilian made a bee line for goal only to lash his shot into the side netting. The young Brazilian again controlled the midfield with ease, dictating the tempo, winning the ball back at will and recycling it effectively. Not that you`ll see any credit afforded him elsewhere.
The home side were clearly in the mood to put the tie to bed before the 9 0`clock watershed and when Diaby cut a swathe through the Hoops midfield and eased the ball into Eboue with his back to goal, Jesus` right hand man flicked the ball up nonchalantly, turned and arrowed a low drive just wide. The Gunners perma rotating front three was bamboozling the visitors, with Eboue, Eduardo and Bendtner all taking turns at spear heading the three pronged attack, Diaby slotting in behind as Fabregas had at Celtic Park. The Gunners` pressure did eventuate into a deserved goal, but in undeserved Machiavellian circumstances. Denilson slipped a ball into the channel for Eduardo, who touched the ball away from Artur Boruc and then belly flopped to the ground with the gracile air of a harpooned whale. Quite how the referee fell for such a poorly executed act of simulation I`m not quite sure, suffice to say I would advise the official to get someone else to take his car to the garage for his next MOT. Eduardo dusted himself down and slotted the penalty home in one of the more muted celebrations we`ll see this season. Post match the manager admitted it was not a penalty, but offered up the explanation that the mental scar tissue of Edaurdo`s injury might well have caused him to throw himself groundwards. This doesn`t quite square with Le Boss` pre match assertion that Eduardo`s demonstration of mental strength had given Wenger reason to believe the Croatian striker was now "A 100% completely normal player." For all of the smug, self satisfactory moral lecturing we might be tempted to dish out in the temperance of an easy victory, we must ask ourselves, if Eduardo were to do the same thing on Saturday in the 89th minute at 0-0, would we be wringing our hands, or punching the air with our fists? I know what I`ll be doing, and I know what you`ll be doing too. We`re all of us complicit, so let us not moralise too hastily, eh?
The Gunners continued to dominate, stopping just short of literally urinating in the Bhoys` penalty area in order to demarcate our territory. We appear to have fallen back in love with the swift counter attack again this season, a weapon scarcely utilised in the last three season`s of chin stroking and almost deliberately slowing the game down. Eboue led the charge down field elephant stylee, all ears flapping, and trunk waving as he marauded at the Celtic back four, switched the ball to Eduardo on the right hand corner of the penalty box and sending a swerving shot towards the top corner, only for Boruc to beat it out. No doubting the level of contact from Boruc to an Eduardo touch this time. From the resulting corner, Nicklas Bendtner out leapt Gary Caldwell but headed wide when he really ought to have scored. Half time and the three goal margin in the tie was flattering to Celtic if anything, though people may be tempted to point to the non existent entity of 'luck` in our goals to that point, the fact is, I cannot recall an Almunia save in either leg.
Arsenal began the second half in similarly dominant mood, though Celtic never threw the towel into the ring, their belief had long since left the building. Eduardo jinxed his way past two Celtic defenders only to horribly slice his shot wide on his weaker right foot. But a flowing Arsenal move would bring about the second goal on 52 minutes. Denilson again glanced towards the channels and played a smart ball into Bendtner (or B52 as he shall now be known); his impudent back-heel winged its way into Diaby`s path in the penalty area, he cut the ball back to 'Sniffer` Eboue, who manoeuvred inside one Celtic defender before lashing the shot past Boruc. The referee might well have been a Satanist, as Eboue`s revealing of his favourite Jesus tee shirt caused enough offence to garner a booking. Who are these ridiculous stuffed shirts who make these trivial, pointless rules? The powers that be won`t even discuss goal line technology, but lifting one`s shirt is apparently a cardinal sin. I would bet money the miserable, joyless excuse for a human being that made that rule could not even give you a decent reason for it. I would advise players to start getting offensive with the tee shirt slogans, you`re going to get booked anyway, get more bang for your buck. How about Eboue to reveal a "I Belong to Satan" vest upon his next goal? Or perhaps Emmanuel Adebayor could give the finger to his critics with a "If You Think My Attitude Stinks, You Should Smell My Fingers" tee?
I`m tempted to say that the game ceased to be a contest at that point, but in truth, that had been the case since Gallas` arse intervened in Eastern Glasgow. A third goal on the night was forthcoming however, Denilson was still willing to press Celtic high up the pitch, forcing Brown to surrender possession, substitute Arshavin quickly scented blood, moving on to the loose ball and turning it forwards to Ramsey, Ramsey played a return ball slightly behind the diminutive Russian, but Arshavin managed to turn his body in synchronisation with the ball and steer a low shot past Boruc for his first goal of the season. Celtic did manage to register probably the most aesthetically pleasing goal of the tie with its very last kick, Scott Brown`s right wing cross was met perfectly by Donati`s sliding volley, evading Almunia`s left hand and travelling in via the post. But in the end the difference between the sides was incredibly stark, with Arsenal keeping Celtic at arm`s length for the two ties. It was slightly disappointing again to miss out on the clean sheet and slightly disconcerting when Wenger revealed in his post match diagnosis that Arsenal don`t much worry about clean sheets as long as they outscore the opposition. This attitude is all very well when coasting 5-0, but it might become malignant and hit us hardest in tight games. But overall, we head into today`s draw and Saturday`s clash at Old Trafford in fine fettle.LD.
Team: 1.ALMUNIA(c), 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 15.DENILSON, 2.DIABY (16.Ramsey '61), 27.EBOUE, 52.BENDTNER (19.Wilshere '71), 9.EDUARDO (23.Arshavin '71).
Unused: 11.v.Persie, 18.Silvestre, 24.Mannone, 28.Gibbs.