Sevilla dance to Cesc's Tune
Well that was surprisingly comfortable wasn’t it? On the back of a European week and an emotionally draining win at the Lane, I thought we might be in for a bit of a fright against the back-to-back UEFA Cup winners, but the Young Guns never cease to amaze.
As a fan, I feel the golden rule with Champions League games is not to miss the music at the start! So when my train stopped halfway between West Brompton and Earls Court for no apparent reason, I was not best pleased. However, I managed to get to the New Home of Football in good time, enough time to get a programme and hot dog. I checked out the lineup on the telly in the concourse, and the only surprise was the absence of Gilberto, which had been rumoured in build-up to the game. I’m guessing that decision was due to the fatigue and air miles he clocked up last week – Le Boss couldn’t afford to rest him against Spurs, especially with Senderos banned, but could do so tonight.
The Gooner faithful were in decent voice early on, there was a little rendition of how quiet it was out our dear neaighbour’s ground, and how we beat them 3-1. Arsenal’s gold numbers and letters looked very snazzy too.
As many pundits had predicted, it was an open contest between two very good footballing sides. Along with Manchester United, Barcelona and maybe Real Madrid, these two are the most exciting teams to watch. Very early on Ade had our first effort on goal when he dragged his shot wide of the keepers right post from 18 yards out. Then Sevilla threatened with a speculative effort from Jesus Navas – the kid who is even more homesick than Jose Reyes. His shot whizzed over the bar, and by the way Almunia was scrambling you could tell that it was very close indeed.
Arsenal were warming to the task nicely, and on 10 minutes Robin van Persie spurned the opportunity to left fly with his left foot from 30 yards, instead opting to twist and turn his marker, eventually making space for a decent right-footed effort that was at a decent height for the keeper. Not long after than the Flamster hit a daisy cutter from 20 yards, which was spilled by the keeper. Unfortunately Ade was offside for the follow up, but a word on Flamini: after the near-certainty of his departure, who would’ve thought halfway through the summer that he would become an unsung hero at the heart of our midfield? Successful sides/squads are based on players like him, he is our Phil Neville (and I mean that in a complimentary way). Tonight his partnership with Cesc worked very well, partly because Sevilla were not great through the centre but also because they feed off each other well. Being similar in height and stature, defensive duties are more shared out than if Gilberto was playing, and Cesc had no problem dropping deeper every now and then to accommodate Flamini’s buzzing around and hassling of the opposition.
Arsenal were knocking the ball about well enough but lacked in any great urgency or tempo, possibly feeling the drain from their weekend exploits. Ade was on of the brighter sparks early on, looking lively up-front as he drifted wide and ran at both full-backs, allowing runners the space to break from midfield. He also won his fair share aerially. The only thing he sometimes lacks is a bit of guile and cunning, but what he lacks in nous he more than makes up for in heart.
The opener came just before the half-hour as Flamini picked up a loose ball and knocked it forward to Cesc. Before the "shoot brigade" could even get on his back let rip from 25 yards, the shot getting a deflection and leaving the keeper stranded. Frank Lampard eat your heart out! Someone told me at half-time that the little Spaniard was 20/1 to get the opener, if I’d known that earlier than I would’ve definitely put a fiver on it! He pointed to the heavens in celebration, possibly a dedication to Antonio Puerto, a poignant moment.
The lead could have been doubled only five minutes later from a left-wing corner. Rosicky whipped it in and Toure climbed highest, but I think the ball may have come off the back of his head and it flew wide.
Just before half Ade ran with the ball on the left-wing and cut inside a la Henry. His finish was poor though as he snatched at his shot, sending it far wide of the post. Flamini had another long-range effort saved low down, before former Spud Kanoute unleashed a drive from outside the box that Almunia had to turn behind. The resulting corner went all the way across the face of the goal, a heart-in-mouth moment seeing no Arsenal head connect with the ball.
One of the worries was down our right flank where Diego Capel, who had been linked with Arsenal in the morning papers, was giving Sagna a torrid time. A nippy and skilful winger, the only position in the squad where we have a real dearth. The last action of the half came when Kanoute failed to get on the end of a cross, but it was one of those straight crosses which can creep in at the far post, which thankfully it didn’t.
The second half kicked off with Arsenal very much in the ascendancy. Ade was on the receiving end of a ridiculous booking (at least, it was ridiculous from where I was sitting) and Tommy Rosicky went off with what turned out to be a strained hamstring, being replaced by Abou Diaby. A shame for Tom as he had finally started to look at home out on the left, linking up well with the overlapping Clichy and providing more of a goal threat. He’ll probably miss the weekend match, and would have been rested for the Newcastle Carling Cup game, so hopefully it is not too serious and that he’s back thereafter.
Sevilla began to come back into the game as the change disrupted Arsenal’s natural rhythm, but on the hour mark we grabbed our second of the game. Flamini was fouled when marauding down the left. Cesc took the free-kick quickly, but was called back by the ref. Much like against Spurs for Ade’s equaliser, I knew we’d score from the retake. It was shocking defending in truth from Sevilla as Cesc’s free-kick went all the way through to the back post where Robin had the simplest of tap-ins. Just a few minutes earlier I had begun to think that The Perse had started to suffer a mini-drought ever since his penalty miss against Man City, and how he’d need a scrappy goal to get his confidence back up, which is exactly what happened.
Five minutes after we went two-up came the biggest scare of the night. Chelsea target Dani Alves was in acres of space down our left and whipped in a sumptuous ball which no less than four Arsenal and Sevilla players failed to get on the end of, Sagna eventually shepherding the ball away. Speaking of Chelsea, the chant of the night must go to the one which mocked how they couldn’t fill their ground the night before, and how they were a "sh*t club" with "no history"! The Brazilian full-back then earned a free-kick and managed to get booked in the process, I assume for giving lip to the ref. He was becoming more central to Sevilla’s play as he found more space down the right flank.
Ade nearly got in the goalscoring act in the 70th minute. Sagna crossed from deep and ‘The Bane of Tottenham’ got in front of his marker and glanced his header goalwards. I was sitting exactly behind the corner he was aiming for, and until the ball bounced and spun away, it looked all the world like it was going to nestle in the back of the net, but alas it wasn’t meant to be his night, and with less than ten minutes left he was replaced by Eduardo.
Before the Crozilian came on, Robin had an shot tipped round the post after he ghosted in at the back post and stretched to volley Sagna’s deep cross, very much like his infamous equaliser last season against Man Utd during which he broke his metatarsal.
Before the final whistle, Lassana Diarra came on to a strong ovation to make his Arsenal bow. As the game petered out, the Gunners were not content to simply play out time, it just is not in the nature of this team. Sevilla managed a few token long range efforts, but nothing was like the third and final goal of the night. At least a quarter of the home fans, maybe more, had swarmed out by the time Eduardo grabbed his second goal for the club. Five minutes before the goal, the same trio of Cesc, Alex and Eddie had nearly combined successfully, but this time it paid off. Alex intercepted a Sevilla clearance before squaring to Cesc on the edge of the box. The Spaniard played a first-time ball across the face of goal to Eduardo (who from my angle looked suspiciously offside), and the Crozilian duly obliged to score a goal with all the fox-in-the-box hallmarks you could ask for.
A perfect end to a near perfect performance and result. Bear in mind that Sevilla very nearly finished as Spanish champions last season, this turned out to be more straightforward a victory than most Gooners had expected. At the back we looked solid for the most part, shackling Kanoute and Luis Fabiano. The main weakness once again was when the ball was crossed into our box, something which causes no-end of havoc to this team. The clean sheet speaks for itself though, so well done to the defence for that as Sevilla are no mugs.
Top Gun? I can’t look past the maestro that is Cesc Fabregas. He orchestrated/conducted/pulled all the strings in this performance, and show no lack of bite in defence either. With his ever increasing ability to get goals and the improvement of his physical stature, he is becoming more and more a hybrid between two of the finest footballers of their respective generations: Paul Scholes and Cesc’s own hero, Pep Guardiola. I was also relieved to see Robin get his name on the scoresheet to avert any potential goalscoring drought, and Eduardo did what he is paid to do: finish off our slick moves. Good stuff overall.
Next up is Derby at home on Saturday, followed by Newcastle in the League Cup in midweek. Following his goal here, I’d like to see Eduardo start at least one, if not both games. Hopefully Theo too can get some game time after he was left warming the bench here, and maybe Diaby can get a crack at central-midfield.