Date: 30th August 2007 at 1:19pm
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Last night provided everything I wanted. It was game devoid of any real excitement or tension, in fact, as an encounter it was entirely moribund. Before the game I was hoping and praying that I would be bored witless by the events and so it proved. After the nail chomping encounters against Citeh and Fulham, it was nice to be able to actually sit back and analyse a match in a most pretentious fashion. Shortly after the first goal, I actually pledged to myself to perform a kind of ‘player cam’ on Gilberto, constantly checking his positioning and reading of the game to properly appreciate just how good he is. It is the kind of joy that only an obsessive can understand. (A bit like sitting around all summer in your underpants, watching old Arsenal season review re runs, your own filth arranged haphazardly around you while you remonstrate wildly with the linesman for not flagging Viduka offside).

Le Boss promised a few changes and so he delivered, Abou Diaby returned to central midfield to partner Gilberto, whilst Theo Walcott and Eduardo got the full ninety minutes to weave themselves further into the Arsenal fabric. After only seven minutes the Gunners’ killed the tie off. Walcott was played in by the impressive Justin Hoyte down the right (Daily Mail readers amongst you will appreciate the irony of an all English right wing….in fact, you probably won’t because you’ll probably be too busy picketing Lebanese restaurants, demanding that they ‘stop corrupting our culture.’), Walcott sold a confident shimmy before lashing in a low cross which Tomas Rosicky attacked with poise to slide Arsenal into a 3-0 aggregate lead. The Czech’s understandably muted celebration was punctuated by gesticulating an apology to the small hoard of travelling Spartans. They responded by applauding steadfastly. (Ironically, a goal he scored at Highbury for Sparta back in 2000 also drew applause from the opposing fans).

From there on in, the game died a death. Arsenal had absolutely no need to do anything other than play the game out and preserve themselves for tougher matches ahead. Walcott continued to look promising on the counter attack, running at defenders with more gusto and belief than we have seen from him previously. I just really wish he would get his head up before his final delivery. It is difficult to analyse the game beyond this point, even le Boss could not venture an attempt in his post match press conference. Arsenal could afford to play very much within themselves, Prague knew the game was up. Though they did create one chance of note towards the end of the first half. As he had done in the first leg, Jan Rezek snuck around the back of Gael Clichy, latching onto Pospech’s through ball, dinked the ball over the advancing Almunia, but agonisingly wide.

The game played out in much the same fashion in the second half. That is until the triumvirate of introductions, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor and Denilson. I must confess I was none too impressed when Cesc came on, with the tie virtually over and a psychopathic excuse for a footballer looking to exact brutal revenge, I simply could not see the point. However, Cesc’s burst of energy reinvigorated the game with new life. Eduardo, who had been extremely quiet, moved out wide, Walcott, who had begun to fade on the right wing, moved upfront and Adebayor’s boundless energy gave Arsenal a different dimension. Arsenal grabbed another goal. Eduardo skipped joyfully around Pospech on the left, before cutting the ball back to Cesc Fabregas. The dimunitive Spaniard took a touch before firing a low shot which squirmed under the body of Tomas Postulka. With Denilson and Adebayor all flicks and tricks, a little more joy was injected into our game. Adebayor and Denilson exchanged deft lay offs, before Densilson’s right wing cross was dispatched by the flying Eduardo from inside the six yard box. It was exactly the kind of goal that we had bought him to score.

That meant that all three of Arsenal’s goals came from innovative work out wide. On Saturday, Alex Hleb’s wing play won us a penalty and a goal. I would suggest that the suggestion Arsenal do not produce from wide positions is something of a myth. Most of our goals last season came from good wing play. I would argue that we need more depth on the wings, but this chalk on the boots style many are proposing is not what we are screaming out for. What we have needed is more goals from our midfielders (afterall, how is a winger supposed to make Pires/ Overmarsesque contributions to the scoring charts if he is stuck out on the touchline?) So far this campaign, the midfielders are scoring freely and I hope this is a trend that continues. The final whistle sounded and Fabregas stopped to kiss the black armband he was wearing in tribute to friend and international team mate Antonio Puerte who died this week, shortly after collapsing in Sevilla’s match versus Getafe. It’s a sobering thought to be confronted with how fragile a thing life actually is, a 22 year old professional athlete six weeks shy of fatherhood dying of a heart attack seems an improbable scenario. An especially pertinent thought in the wake of the death of young QPR striker Ray Jones. Our condolences to both families. Hardly makes the impending closure of the transfer window worth worrying about.LD.