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Arsenal 2 Olympiacos 0

The Champions League group stages seem to have lost their allure somewhat. Maybe it`s a consequence of being spoiled or maybe as the wealth gap- and consequently the quality gap- becomes more marked, the Group stages feel more and more like a procession. I reflected before kick off on our first two ventures into the Champions League (the Wembley years) and how badly we struggled in the Group stages and how far the side has come since then. The class of 1998 and 1999 featured players such as Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Henry, Suker, Ljungberg- yet we still looked competition amateurs. Perhaps that`s an excellent reflection on our young players of today who have been reared to the falsetto tones of the Champions League anthem or perhaps it`s an indication of how far the quality of opponents has dropped. (After all, the teams that qualified ahead of us in 1998 and 1999 reads R.C. Lens, Dynamo Kyiv, Fiorentina and Barcelona- three of those teams would scarcely draw a sell out crowd at the Grove). The pre match pints lacked any kind of tension or anticipation; indeed I don`t think we even mentioned our opponents in passing. It seems that sense of anti climax was present in the stadium with tickets on sale less than 24 hours before the game and with banks of empty seats visible from all angles. The stadium announcer`s proclamation of a 59,000+ crowd was met with derisive laughter. Sometimes I think they shouldn`t bother announcing such skewed figures, it`s embarrassing. But such are the complacent moans and groans of Champions League fed aristocrats I suppose.

Olympiacos were on a damage limitation exercise from the outset and you cannot blame them really. Arsenal went with a slightly more attacking bent to the line up with Eboue replacing Sagna at right back for the second consecutive Champions League match. Tomas Rosicky replaced the bruised Bendtner on the right hand side of the attacking triumvirate. The Gunners did not insist on the same mistake they had made in Liege of taking their opponents too lightly and hit the ground running. Fabregas, currently the in vogue whipping boy for journalists and forum fatalists, arced a beautifully fashioned cross field ball to fellow brickbat bearer Gael Clichy (both players having been fan favourites for so long, it`s a predictable British phenomena that both are baring over the top criticism now they have been around long enough- a bit like when you`ve been with your partner just long enough for the infatuation to fade and for their table manners and sleeping habits to become a constant source of irritation), Clichy darted inside Zewlakow and showed great awareness to pull the ball back to Arshavin, whose low shot was too close to Nikopolidis. Arshavin of course is the apple of many a Gooner eye at the moment and it`s not difficult to see why. However, such is human nature that we are still in the haze of infatuation with him and his constant refusal to track back is glossed over with a dismissive, "aaah isn`t that sweet?" demeanour. Much like when you first get together with your partner and the fact that her jaw clicks when she eats and that light whistling sounds she makes in her sleep is all really quite endearing.

Arsenal were pinning the Greeks back, Arshavin played a neat ball into van Persie who teed up Fabregas and the captain`s shot thumped against the crossbar. Van Persie had the presence of mind to control the rebound and play a ball into Rosicky, who made the oft repeated Arsenal mistake of crashing his low finish straight at the goalkeeper. Arshavin would again conjure some magic in the opponent`s penalty area, picking the ball up on the right, shuffling his feet and hitting an instant low shot with no back lift, but Nikopolidis had his angles correct and ushered the ball out for safety. From the resulting corner, Thomas Vermaelen headed over when he really ought to have tested Olympiacos` feather haired custodian again. It was van Persie`s turn to create havoc in the opposition penalty area- where the stage of the game was being predominantly set, twisting Olof Mellberg one way and then the other, but yet again his finish meant Nikopolidis barely had to shuffle his feet to make the save. Arsenal`s approach play, with Fabregas, van Persie and Arshavin in tandem was more than the visitors, vociferously buoyed on by an enthusiastic travelling crowd, could handle. However, the reality was that the Gunners had peppered their goal with shots, yet Nikopolidis hadn`t really been required to make any breath taking stops. The finishing would have to improve.

Arsenal`s profligacy was almost punished in the harshest possible terms shortly after half time, Dudu`s corner saw Mellberg comfortably out leap Vermaelen and head towards the goal in which he registered the stadium`s first official strike three years ago, but Mannone clawed the ball away and Clichy hacked it to safety. The scare reasserted Arsenal`s focus and they almost put paid to the away side straight away. Fabregas won the ball high up the pitch and manoeuvred the ball wide to Eboue, he shifted the ball back to van Persie and yet again an Arsenal forward struck the ball straight at the keeper. Van Persie explicated his frustration with a very rash challenge on the clearing Olympiacos defender, earning himself a deserved booking in the process. Though the frustration wouldn`t prevent him pinging the ball straight at the goalkeeper yet again five minutes later, with Gallas offside from the resulting rebound. With Arsenal still chasing a game they should have been winning comfortably, Arsene sent for reinforcement, with Vela and Eduardo bowling into the fray. It was Eduardo that would show the sort of sangfroid that had been missing in the penalty area on 78 minutes, Fabregas slipped a crafty pass into the left channel, which Eduardo latched onto and had the presence of mind to delay his cut back until van Persie had arrived to meet the ball in the six yard area, had Eduardo played the pass a second earlier, the onrushing Dutch striker would have had to check his body position and might well have needed a touch before striking, by delaying, Eduardo`s pass met van Persie`s stride perfectly and he swept the ball into an open net for his third goal in his last four games.

Arsenal suddenly relaxed again and were allowed to carve out a second goal of artistic beauty. Ramsey controlled the ball calmly on the edge of the area and elucidated his growing maturity by waiting and slipping a measured pass to Fabregas on the right hand side, his low sweeping cross saw Arshavin pirouette and flick the ball into the net with the back of his instep. For most of the evening, Arsenal`s attackers had made something of a trade in smashing the ball straight at the goalkeeper, so perhaps it was fitting that such an impudent flick ended up in the bottom corner. The apparently disastrously off colour Fabregas now has five assists and three goals in the five and a half games he has played this season. Poor form indeed. It was a pleasing three points and especially satisfying that Arsenal did not lose their focus with the sort of erratic, harum scarum panic button football you often see from Arsenal in these situations. A mistake they seemed to have learned from Eastlands when they treated the 60 minute mark of the game as the 89th minute. Our finishing was very disappointing and the game should have been wrapped up by half time, better, more adventurous sides won`t be bowed by one conversion in every ten shots and we must learn to be more unerring in front of goal. Other than that, a formality of a win in a formality of a group and we`ve built up a nice rhythm just in time for the international break to come and disrupt it all over again.LD.

Team: 24.MANNONE, 27.EBOUE, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 4.FABREGAS©, 2.DIABY (12.Vela `78), 7.ROSICKY (9.Eduardo `71), 23.ARSHAVIN, 11.v.PERSIE (16.Ramsey `84). Unused: 3.Sagna, 6.Senderos, 19.Wilshere, 53.Szczesny.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday September 30 2009

Time: 10:12AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Arshavin is an intriguing player. Maybe its just me recalling something Wenger said at the time of the Euros last year along the lines that he wasn't sure Arshavin had the stamina to play in England but he often looks shattered to me. That must just be his manner because he looked done in after about 20 minutes. But he did keep going and even did a reasonable amount of chasing back and recovering possession though I felt there were also times when he went missing altogether. Still he was still doing it at the end of the game and if anything seemed to finish stronger.
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30/09/2009 10:48:00

I think every side can afford one "luxury" player and I think Arshavin is that player. I've often read that Chapman allowed Alex James to take liberties not allowed to his colleagues because of his ability. I do wish he would try and chase back a bit more. There was one occasion where he hurried back to regain possession, but he had to scurry largely because he had allowed the guy on the ball to waltz away from him so easily in the first place. I also saw RvP drop back and cover him more than once. You're right, he is intriguing, he can be very frustrating but you also kind of know he is indispensible.
Little Dutch
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30/09/2009 12:00:00

I think Arshavin plays the game to this own tempo. His accurate first-time passing is an incredible gift but one only he possess in this side. I see frustration in him when he doesn't recieve it back on the quick one-twos. The build up to the second goal is an (ironic) example of this. Although Ramsey showed composure to play it out wide, Arsh was pointing his finger where he wanted it before Ramsey even received the ball, he then chose to take an extra touch rather than play it in the gap. Thankfully the goal came via a pinpoint cross but could easily been disallowed. Maybe this frustration is what causes Arsh to take on players himself when a pass to a teammate would be more constructive, and perhaps why he doesn't find it necessary to track back that often as he feels he is being let down at the other end.
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30/09/2009 13:29:00

Arshavin and Fabs both look knackered for a big stretch about 10 mins into the first half. I think Eddy coming on was way overdue because it gave the team a serious boost when he came on. Great to see Vela get a run aswell. But yeh this isn't the first time i've seen AA looking tired. The worst thing is, when he's tired he just tends to try and pass it forward any old way he can and it rarely even makes it too an Arsenal player.
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30/09/2009 14:36:00

I just think that's Arshavin's style. He does tend to just walk around for a lot of the game, but around the 90th minute, Vela was on the break from our half and Arshavin was sprinting past everyone to Vela's right, only he couldn't quite find a pass to him. That shows me that he's probably always just been the type to conserve his energy until he sees that there is something for him to capitalise on.
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30/09/2009 16:19:00

Interesting little insights into your romantic life, there, LD. :-) (kidding! kidding!) I agree, Arshavin's not getting enuf scrutiny. Fascinating discussion about him in the comments section, agree with much of it. I think it's a combination of his fitness level plus his frustration at not getting the kind of accurate service he demands. Tho having seen some Zenit and Russia games, he expresses the same frustration with those teammates as well. Also, while I agree Clichy and Cesc are getting a lot of criticism from gooners, I think Diaby's got them both beat on that score right now. And I'm one of the Diaby critics. I think he's probably our most skilled player, he's got everything to be even better than Vieira but it's that brain of his that need serious work. I love Zico, it's disappointing to see him resorting to nationalist favoritism from the refs as an issue in the game. Tenha dor, Zico! Re their keeper--have seem to have this brilliant and consistent knack of making average keepers look like geniuses. AW waited too long to put Eduardo on but he did mention in his press conference afterwards that Eduardo was carrying a knock. We played very well, despite the poor finishing. Song, Cesc, RVP, Eboue looked esp. impressive. At the end of the game Song looked exhausted, he misses Denilson alongside him. What was pleasing to see was the patience and no moment of doing anything "crazy," as AW said. Had to laugh at that. Interesting comments, LD, about how greats like Vieira et al looked so callow in the CL years ago while these kids with no trophies look so much more assured in Europe's top competition today.
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30/09/2009 17:04:00

CORRECTION: "Re their keeper--have seem to have this brilliant and consistent knack of making average keepers look like geniuses. " -- I meant we seem to have this brilliant and consistent knack for making....
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30/09/2009 17:05:00

AA looked a lot better than at the Cottage on Saturday. I think he's still not 100%. Has anyone else noticed how much better Robin has got at holding the ball up and his aerial ability. It's obviously something he & Wenger have worked on when adapting to this formation.
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30/09/2009 21:51:00

Van Persie was outstanding yesterday. The role he is playing is identical to Ibrahimovic and similar to Berbatov, a combined £100 million between them. RVP was £3.5 million, Thats the beauty of Wenger!
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30/09/2009 23:02:00

What you lot are talking about with Arshavin is something you have to get used to. He is an exceptional player but he often wanders around for a long time doing nothing before making a brilliant play. He only needs a fraction of time and space to do this as we all know. Also, he is being played out of position constantly for Arsenal and those that can understand russian, have heard him on numerous occasions voice his concern over this when he has been back with the national team in russia. I personally saw him live ohh 3 years ago now, against Poland. Hiddink had been manager of russia for about half a year i think. The whole game, he did absolutely NOTHING. Frankly, russia looked horrible. They drew poland 2:2 after being up 2:0. Anyway, my point is that he sometimes has games where he is not seen (spain comes to mind at the Euros) and much of this is down to him not getting the ball enough as opposed to anything else. How many times has there been a situation where he should get the ball but he doesnt receive it (someone pointed out ramsey on the second goal being a perfect example). About the tracking back, he doesnt do it because again, he is used to playing as a second striker so he assumes or is used to not having those responsibilities. although he is getting better in that department. honestly though, its excusable for him if he scores or creates goals, but its not if he was of the calibre as diaby for example (hate to make him a scapegoat but it seems to be looking like he is one among the fans). sorry for that long piece lads
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30/09/2009 23:18:00

Now I don't know about other matches, but the 59,000+ reported to be in attendance didn't seem that wrong to me. From my point of view I could only see a couple of empty seats here and there. Might have been a couple of thousand off, but nothing more than that.
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01/10/2009 00:19:00

clicking jaw and whistling in her sleep? you been hanging around the wrong sorts of ladies mate! i would say we have the most potent attack force in europe, even compared to real and barca. but i think AW is playin them out of positions personally. i would like to see eduardo up front with arshavin and rvp on the wings, then rosicky, cesc and song. i think diaby needs a good think of who he wants to be in arsenal, if he wants to be there at all. i cant see the commitment from him in the games he's played so far. let's face it, AW is giving him a decent run of games to prove himself and he's not exactly making the most of it. and finally i know a lot of you will disagree, but i would like to see senderos partnering vermaelen in CB. i think that is the combo of the future.
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01/10/2009 01:22:00

Supersof - really gotta disagree with Senderos. Gallas has lifted his game this season massively and he is loving playing with Vermealen. Gallas is a great player when he has a good reltionship with another CB. I don't know if anyone else noticed but Vermaelen and Gallas were actually hugging BEFORE the game (we should keep an eye on that one) I think we played pretty fantastically, its no secret we dominated that game and the link up play between RVP, Cesc, AA and Rosicky was Arsenal at their best. Sorry to all you Bedtner lovers out there but we look a much quicker and better team when he doesn't play.
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01/10/2009 02:04:00

There is little fixity in the positions of the front three, the beauty of them is that they rotate. Just as Pires, Henry and Wiltord used to do, just as Pvermars, Anelka and Bergkamp used to do. It's obviously working now too because we average three goals a game this season, I can't understand why people are so concerned about Champiosnhip Manageresque positioning. I'd say it gives a defender a lot more to think about when we see Eduardo's assist on Wednesday coupled with his brilliant assist for Diaby against Pompey from the left. If you're a defender and you know Eduardo is just as capable of nutmegging you on the left as he is popping up in the six yard box, you've got problems. Ditto Arshavin, just as capable of weaving around you and providing a cross as he is on the edge of the box sending in a shot. I can't understand why people are so keen to take away from that and have everyone stand in one place all the time. Imagine if Pires and Overmars would have stayed on the touchline all the time or if Henry sat on the edge of the six yard box constantly. You'd have one tenth of the player.
Little Dutch
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01/10/2009 08:56:00

Not sure just how fit AA was on tuesday night. All I know is the little man lifts me out of my seat, just like DB10 and TH14 used to. For me, he is a pleasure to watch. Yes, I would like him to track back and cover for people , but I am more than happy to trade that off with what he does when he has the ball. Unfortunately, there are 5 or 6 players ahead of AA on the criticism list. Let's just get on and enjoy the little man, there is MUCH more to come from him.
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01/10/2009 09:37:00

In Theo's interview in the programme from Tuesday he mentioned how much he's looking forward to playing in this formation because of the amount of positional freedom it gives. Basically he will get the chance centrally a bit more. We have got a few players who are obviously not 100% happy about their position (basically they all want to play 'in the hole') so giving them the freedom to interchange is a good compromise.
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01/10/2009 09:40:00

Good players should adapt to their positions, as best as they can, if it benefits the team. Obviously, 4-3-3 is not so good for our full backs as 4-4-2 was, but they will have to adjust as its better for the team. The same for mid fielders and strikers. Thats what we should focus on, rather than whether X is happy playing in some position.
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01/10/2009 11:31:00

jaelle: we "seem to have this brilliant and consistent knack of making average keepers look like geniuses. " Given that Nikopolidis has been the Greek international number 1 for ages and has won a Euro, I think you're being a bit harsh to the George Clooney-lookalike. I rate him higher than Almunia, anyway.
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02/10/2009 02:11:00


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