Saturday, 23 October 2010

Progress in the Champions League almost assured. Shakhtar match report.

Arsenal 5 Shakhtar Donetsk 1

I didn't expect Arsenal to find it so comfortable against Shakhtar but the reason we did was we took our chances. 2-0 at half-time definitely was a somewhat fortuitous scoreline, but football is ultimately about making possession count for something. We didn't at Chelsea and we lost 2-0. We did against Shakhtar and we won 5-1. There's no fluke there. Okay, having a competent goalkeeper is useful (and how nice it was to see the shoe on the other foot for the first goal). But if you score from all your chances it makes it a great deal easier to win a trophy.

Kevin Whitcher's comments that many European teams show Arsenal too much respect resonated exactly with how Donetsk approached the game - for me, they came along trying to nick a point and that's never a good idea against Arsenal. Games like Wolves last season show how we keep on going till the end. And clearly, it spectacularly backfired.

And this result means that we're now all but in the last 16. Again. With Spurs fans jizzing themselves over the margin of defeat to Inter being just a single goal, it shows just how big the gap is between the teams.

Partizan, Braga and Shakhtar was definitely not the hardest draw we could have had. But you can only beat what's in front of you and our continual progression to the Champions League knockout stages is something to be cherished - sooner or later we're going to string a few results together in the knockout rounds and reach the final again. But it probably isn't cherished enough: aside from when Eduardo came on, the ground was really, really quiet all night and no-one seemed that impressed by the performance afterwards in the pub.

And in a sense, it's only because we find it so easy in the group stage that we can afford to give players like Eduardo such a warm welcome back. To see the fans cheering an opposition goal, shows just how much Eduardo is still in our hearts.

This is a man remember, who would almost certainly still be at Arsenal but for Martin Taylor's tackle. The quality of his goal, in spite of the leg-break certainly leaving him a lesser player, shows just what a player he could have been.

Goodplaya also made the very pertinent observation that Eduardo truly is a unique player:
"Only at Arsenal can we imagine a guy who was nearly booted out the game for good ending up the victim of a legal witch hunt that had never applied to anyone but him beforehand and has never applied since. For weeks, his image peppered TV bulletins and newspaper pages as the first guy ever to be banned for diving.

Amazing to think that in the year since that incident, not a single other player has been charged with that offence. Shameful, shameful, shameful UEFA."

I can only wish him the very best of luck and hope that some more former players can come back to play against us in the Champions League - Vieira, Pires, Henry and now Eduardo have all come back in recent years. All have been given a hero's welcome and all have gone on to see their side lose (or in Henry's case pegged back from two up).

With Eduardo's return being pretty much perfect and Arsenal scoring five goals through clinical finishing, it really was a great night for us.

The big question though is can we follow up from it? Tomorrow's match against City is absolutely huge. We've now won four times in mid-week but on each occasion we've then failed to win on the subsequent weekend. With the way the League table is standing, that has to change. Win and we sit second, just five points behind Chelsea, in spite of our patchy form. Lose, and we could be sixth at the close of play tomorrow, eight points behind Chelsea and six behind City.

We've struggled there in recent years but to me that is purely incidental - we could easily have won last year in spite of losing 4-2. It's a huge match, particularly ahead of a week in which we face another difficult match (Newcastle away) which is important to win for different reasons. This City game is a test of whether this Arsenal side has a chance in the League this season. Thankfully, I think we'll win.

Keep the faith.

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