Date: 28th November 2007 at 1:25pm
Written by:

Happily, this will be the last match report that I will write from my armchair, come the next round of the knockout stage I will be back cruising the Ryanair websites and scouting the cheap continental beer. As I write this, seven of my good friends are sunning themselves in 23 degrees of Andalusian heat- and I hate them all! (For the benefit of Tottenham fans, I have spoken to them and they reported no altercations with the police and no trouble at the match at all, quelle surprise). Eyebrows were raised when Wenger took a weakened squad out to Southern Spain, with qulaification but not top spot secured. I understand this decision, we have ten games in December, seven of which are away, two heated London derbies to negotiate and we end the month with fixtures at Pompey and Everton. This will test our resources to the maximum and I understand resting crucial players. This decision might not come off, the resulting defeat may result in a loss of confidence/ momentum, but frankly we are not going to obtain maximum points in December, nobody is, so Wenger is clearly playing the percentages in terms of trying to protect players. What I do know is is that if we attempt to stick with the same XI all season long, we will be exhausted come March and will in all probability lose tired players to injury. This was a decision made in the long to medium term and castigating Wenger for it straight off misses the point, we will not discover until the Spring time whether this risk pays off. It might not, but top managers have to make these risky decisions all the time, it’s a necessary ingredient to success. Wenger gets more right than wrong, so I’m willing to finish second in this group if it slightly enhances the probability of remaining top of the Premiership come January. If we want to win the Champions League, we have to beat the big boys anyway, and if we can’t do that it might just as well become apparent in February, as April or May. A glance at our last two campaigns will tell us that PSV Eindhoven knocked us out in the 2nd Round, Real Madrid didn’t.

Anyways, Arsenal started the game very positively, playing their neat passing game which hushed the partisan home crowd. On eleven minutes Arsenal took the lead, a wonderful Eboue backheel down the right hand side found the impressive Niklas Bendtner, he had all the time in the world to pick out a precise cross which found Eduardo. The Crozilian chested the ball down, fended off Dani Alves and slotted the away side into an early lead. Sevilla looked all out of puff from there on, with Denilson and Fabregas controlling the centre of the park and Sevilla lacking the inspiration and inclination to supersede our dominance. Bendtner was proving too much for Dragutinovic, but was too often isolated with Eduardo marooned out on the left. The home side became tetchy and indisciplined, a sure sign of our superiority. But Arsenal were the architects of their own downfall, a hopeful punt forward from Adriano was hopelessly sliced by Senderos, who was under no pressure, Navas forrayed onto the loose ball but his low cross only found Gilberto, but a poor clearance arrived perfectly at the feet of Seydou Keita who bent an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net with the outside of his left foot. Senderos’ attempted clearance had an horrific air of Sunday league about it, watch highlights of all the Champions’ League games this season and I bet you won’t see another error quite so amateurish. Gilberto’s clearance likewise summed up a poor performance, having played twice for Brazil last week he shouldn’t have been suffering from lack of match practise. Flamini will not fear for his place on Saturday.

Gilberto almost provided Sevilla a second assist when his lacklusture pass fell straight to Luis Fabiano, fortunately Kolo Toure roared back with a last ditch tackle which put the Brazilian off sufficiently to scuff his finish. Sevilla were well on top and cemented their new found swagger with a second goal. Alves cleverly drew a foul from Traore on the left, and without Gallas barking instructions, Arsenal let Luis Fabiano in totally unmarked to head home the free kick. The commentator suggested Almunia might have saved it which I felt was a laughable suggestion, it was a sweet header buried right into the bottom corner, the defence are the ones who take the blame here. The Gunners’ had a brief forrasy forward, Fabregas found Bendtner on the edge of the box, his teflon coated boots somehow kept the ball (as they did all night) under tremednous pressure from two defenders, he nudged the ball back to Eduardo but Palop managed to save despite being stranded on the ground with Bendtner’s sizeable frame astride him. That was the second occasion Eduardo had fed off of Bendtner, so quite why Eduardo spent the entire match upfront alone baffles me, Eduardo clearly wasn’t comfortable on the left. Bendtner was retaining the ball all night alone only to be handicapped by a lack of support. Eduardo’s only notable contributions were in the box feeding off of him, so why Wenger did not pair the two together I cannot tell you.

Sevilla could easily have grabbed another before half time, Almunia beat Fabiano’s shot straight out in front of him, but Kanoute screwed the rebound wide with the goal gaping. It was now Arsenal’s turn to lose their discilpine as Hoyte could easily have seen red for a cynical and cowardly stamp on Alves. Denilson too went into a challenge and two footed and can consider himself fortuituous not to have been red carded. A swinging Alves volley was met with a swinging volley from Keita as Sevilla finished the half well in the ascendancy. We had well and truly dug our own grave. The second half brought little change, save for Pulsen’s trip on Eboue not drawing a stonewall spot kick. with Bendtner still our most effective player, but confusingly Wenger persisted with wasting his good work by employing him as a lone striker. Adriano directed an Alves cross narrowly wide. Controversy ensued as Senderos chested away an Alves cross, and the referee ridiculously awarded a penalty. With the linesman not buying it the referee reversed his decision. Correctly so, but it was a terribly convoluted way of not awarding a penalty, that’s really rather easy, just don’t blow your whistle!

Fabregas gave way for Rosicky, but instead of putting the Czech on the left and moving Eduardo upfront, Rosicky was given a free role behind the lone striker. It was clear from then on that we could not salvage a result. Wenger began to lose his cool on the touchline and was ordered off. But without being able to access the stands, Wenger steadfastly stood behind the dugout. The implication was probably that he should go down the tunnel, his subsequent refusal was rather childish it must be said and it will probably land him in unnecessary strife. With Arsenal pushing in vain for an equaliser, Sevilla broke and condemned us to our first defeat. Alves’ umpteenth cross of the match was all set for the feet of Fredi Kanoute, but Toure and/ or Sagna bundled him to the floor and the penalty was the only decision. Kanoute cooly rolled it home and control of the group was wrestled from our control. The performances of Bendtner and Traore were rare bright spots in an otherwise naive display. It’s disappointing to have surrendered control of the game so easily, but if I could have chosen a game to lose in the next month, I would have chosen this one. Time will tell if Wenger’s gamble will pay off.LD.