Arsenal 5 Shakhtar Donetsk 1
One story dominated the build up to the game with Eduardo making a welcome return home so soon after his sad departure. That particular story was given augmented with heart warming bouquets come full time. But a good deal of the talk should be of another devastating Champions League display against our biggest rivals in the group- a team that had comfortably won their first two games and remained one of two teams in the competition whose defence had yet to be breached. My pre match routine altered slightly, taking time out after work with my good mate Ranty for a tot of rum and a snifter of scotch prior to negotiating a creaking underground train from King`s Cross to Arsenal. Due to my thirst for pints of the black stuff, I am usually in the vicinity of the ground, slaying my thirst at least two hours in advance of kick off. I probably haven`t been on a tube so close to kick off since I was about 16. I think I see why I`ve been so keen to avoid it in the last ten years.
The team selection brought home how spoiled for choice Arsenal can be when a small pocket of the fitness bug breaks out at London Colney. Fabregas returned, which left Denilson and Diaby kicking their heels on the bench, the in form Tomas Rosicky came in for Andrey Arshavin. With Walcott also back to fitness, the four players contesting those two wide slots give us food for thought indeed. But at the moment, I would say it has to be Rosicky plus one, with Arshavin, Nasri and Walcott contesting the other place. Nasri has six goals in nine games, Walcott`s form was very impressive prior to injury and though his languid posture bothers some, Arshavin has been statistically our most effective player this year in terms of goals, assists and chances created for others. Meanwhile, Song, Denilson, Diaby and Wilshere all bring their own qualities to the midfield trio. At the back too, we were left without three of our first choice back four and were still able to replace them with quality, in addition to having a very capable back up to the only uninjured member of the back four sitting on the bench in Kieran Gibbs.
The game began with a rather slow and deliberate tempo, Shakhtar are obviously a side that like to pass the ball so the opening exchanges were more akin to a chess game. It took 18 minutes for Arsenal to break the deadlock and when they did, it was courtesy of a gargantuan error from the Donetsk goalkeeper. Curiously, Samir Nasri seems to have taken over from Fabregas as chief set piece specialist, his delivery saw Pyatov claim the ball, only to then fall back against his own defender, causing the ball to squirm free from his grip. Johan Djourou reacted swiftly to prod the ball goalwards where Alex Song was on hand to flick the ball over the line with an audacious- if slightly needless- flick which ricocheted off the defender and back off Song`s shin for the opening goal. The goal flickered Arsenal into life and they were nearly two in front with a superbly crafted effort, Rosicky clipped the ball up to Chamakh in the area, the Moroccan chested the ball down to Samir Nasri who fit it on the full toss, only to see the shot saved by Pyatov. It was the only shot on target Arsenal had that did not beat Pyatov.
Donetsk sought to take some sting out of the contest by playing a possession game, but Arsenal rendered it ineffective with rigorously enforced pressing from the Arsenal midfield in Donetsk`s half- Fabregas at one point urging young Wilshere to press higher up the pitch to ensure Shakhtar`s passing was ineffectual. From there on, it was a case of awaiting a break and it came on 42 minutes. Song and Eboue played a neat one two on Arsenal`s right, Song`s low cross was deflected into the path of Samir Nasri, whose first touch took him past Srna, before a second setting touch enabled him to smash the ball past Pyatov with his left foot. A sumptuous finish. Half time and Arsenal had scored with two of their three shots on goal; this was a welcome burst of efficiency indeed. Had we had that predilection at Stamford Bridge, things might have turned out differently. Shakhtar briefly threatened to emerge stronger in the second half, the introduction of Douglas Costa, a recent victim of a bad leg break himself, slightly reinvigorating the Ukrainian side as an attacking force. Mkhitaryan played a defence splitting pass to Luiz Adriano, but Fabianski stood tall and blocked the close range effort.
But Arsenal wrested control and never looked back. As Nasri was poised to swing in a right wing free kick, the referee halted the kick to warn Adriano about his attempt to swap shirts with Johan Djourou. It beggars belief then that the Brazilian forward, with a linesman, a watchful referee and a fifth official within spitting defence of him didn`t appear to deter him from idiotically hauling Djourou down, which stretched the referee`s patience thinner than Nick Clegg`s credibility (zing) and he duly pointed to the spot. Despite having done a sterling job of manning the spot kicks in the absences of van Persie and Fabregas, Nasri was shunted to one side by his captain, who nonchalantly picked his spot and spanked the ball into the top corner. The manager showed some pragmatism and immediately substituted his captain for Denilson, but it was the emergence of another Brazilian born player that got the Grove on its feet. Eduardo replaced Luiz Adriano to a thoroughly deserved standing ovation. Though a whiff of good will was in the air with the supporters, the team remained merciless.
The fourth goal was a thing of beauty to behold. Chamakh laid a delicate touch into the path of Wilshere, he shunted the ball to his right to Rosicky and carried on his run, Rosicky repaid the run with an inch perfect first time pass back to Wilshere who took a touch before delicately clipping the ball over the advancing keeper. It was notable that almost all of his team mates joined him in celebration and the supporters` reaction was rather more enthused than usually meets a fourth goal. On any other evening, it would have been the most popular goal of the night. A matter of minutes later, Arsenal had moved into a five goal lead that seemed slightly unreflective of how stern our opponents had been. Nasri scooped a through ball into Chamakh, everyone, the Moroccan included, thought he was offside, so it was with a surreal delay that Chamakh eventually bundled the ball underneath Pyatov. I must have been one of the few who in the stadium who did not expect to see an offside flag, I have yet to see the replay back, but I was rather struck that the Donetsk left back seemed to take an age to step up. Lord Lowe and Hon John disagreed with me, I await the evidence.
It is easy to spare some sentiment when 5-0 up, but the next touch will probably live long in the hearts of those that witnessed it. Jadson attacked down Arsenal`s left and hooked a looping cross into the area; having not yet touched the ball since coming on, Eduardo pounced with a precise volley into the corner. It was the sort of predatory finish to which Arsenal fans have been accustomed. Eduardo kept his vow not to celebrate, but he didn`t need to as the stadium got to its feet to applaud the goal. I recall a Farnborough goal at Highbury receiving something of a patronising cheer in the Cup a few years back, but I don`t ever recall the concession of a goal against Arsenal leading to the offending player`s name being sung! Even the stadium announcer allowed us to greet it by declaring Eduardo`s number and encouraging the fans to shout his name back. Eduardo crossed into his own half to find that even Denilson afforded him a smile and a handshake. I realise neutrals believe our affection for Eduardo is governed only by sympathy. I won`t deny sympathy plays a part in it, but the fact is we recognise what he could have been in an Arsenal shirt had the horrific injury not happened. Prior to that day at St. Andrews his record was 12 goals in 22 starts, to use some crude logic, a continuation on that trajectory would have seen him take a place in Arsenal`s top 3 all time scorers in or around the 300 game mark. But its more than just sympathy and regret, Eduardo has behaved with a class and dignity that touched all of us. The acceptance and even gratitude to the club in his departure, the single mindedness he showed, first to move from Rio to Zagreb as a young boy, sleeping on the dressing room floor and then to come back from his injury. The Taylor incident along with the hysterical reaction to the penalty against Celtic showed that this country rather chewed Eduardo up and spat him out. In his departure it would have been easy and tempting for him to lambaste the English league as an incubator of thugs and the English media as a ravenous pack of vultures. He didn`t, he left these shores with his head held high and the only words he uttered were of thanks to those who he held affection for. Class does not shout from the rooftops, it whispers into ears, Eduardo`s humility marks him out. This is why we got to our feet and applauded his effort last night. It was the perfect expression of thanks, not just for the player, but for the man. As we prepare to meet another ex Arsenal striker on Sunday, this should serve as a reminder to him that supporters will always consider respect a two way street. And rightly so.
The fans disappointingly began to empty in their droves in the last ten minutes, causing members of the Red Section to embarrass the premature leavers with audible choruses of "Is there a fire drill?" and "we can see you sneaking out." I`m not usually a fan of mutiny against one`s own support, but I hope this becomes a regular feature and that early leavers continue to be publicly embarrassed in this way. Listen, nobody likes queuing for the tube, nobody likes sitting in traffic. But when you buy your ticket, weigh those things up- because they`re going to be a feature of your match day experience- and if they bother you so much, don`t go. I`ve read a great deal over the last few weeks about what Wenger`s legacy will be once he is gone. I will tell you what his legacy is right now. 5-1 and 6-0 wins in the Champions League are treated as par of the course, to the point that the support almost treats them with disdain by buggering off home early because they`d rather be home five minutes earlier, rather than staying to appreciate a fine performance. Even the added opportunity for Eduardo to take a solo lap of honour could not keep them in their seats. Make no mistake, this was a fine performance. Arsenal totalled seven shots last night and scored five times. Without looking it up, I reckon we had at least three times that many efforts against CSKA Moskva four years ago when we drew 0-0 at home. That efficiency will be required again on Sunday because City will play conservatively. Arsenal`s was a masterclass in possession, wearing down their opponents with one touch passing and playing a high octane pressing game when possession had been surrendered. This should give us some nice momentum after a nervy win against Birmingham.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 27.EBOUE, 18.SQUILLACI, 20.DJOUROU, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE, 4.FABREGAS c (15.Denilson `63), 7.ROSICKY, 8.NASRI (14.Walcott `72), 29.CHAMAKH (23.Arshavin `72). Unused: 2.Diaby, 28.Gibbs, 52.Bendtner, 53.Szczesny.