PLEASE NOTE THAT YOUR VISION ARTICLES ARE SENT IN BY READERS AND ARE NOT WRITTEN BY ARSENAL VISION WRITERS.
By Max Burman
My title may sound patronising, as if ignoring the valiant effort of Tony Mowbray's charges by comparing them to mere boys but the importance of the title is more on Arsenal as the men. Following our devastating Champions league defeat many said it was Men against Boys, our young team soundly beaten both through quality, experience and grit. It shows how much we have matured, a claim that when made by Wenger was dismissed as both wrong and not enough by many as we lacked the steel at the back and a combative midfielder and that generally we lacked the nous and ability to win when in a battle, as the cretinous Tony Cascarino mused " can they win on a rainy February night up north" . Now, while it is a moronic statement to make, we often enjoy the rain as it quickens up the surface making it easier to pass the ball, there is some sense to what he said. Somewhere in his twisted, bandwagon-jumping, Arsenal-hating mind Cascarino wondered " Can they win in difficult circumstances when mired in a battle".
Now that is not too bad a question to raise, Glen Hoddle repeated it ahead of our Champions League game. It may be tiresome but it is true; as they would say, we didn't like it up us. We often allowed ourselves to get bullied out of a game, hassled out of our rythm. It was then with almost disbelief that after thrashing them 6-1 and outplaying them David Moyes remarked that we had bullied them off the pitch. This certainly was a bold statement to make, daring to suggest we could actually handle a battle let alone instigate one. Naturally, MOTD could take no notice of this for fear of upsetting Alan Hansen and leaving him with no opportunity to critiscise our lack of steel and actually have to praise us so they refused to talk about us.
Then, managing to grab headlines Tony Mowbray declared in his pre-match press conference that we had worked hard on pressing our opponents, that WE, the pretty Arsenal would atempt to hassle his hard-working Glaswegians out of the tie, surely not. It may not have come as a surprise to us fans who had seen this tactic in pre-season and realised that our great manager had decided it would be best to copy Barca's formation. It is no coincidence that havinng adopted their 4-3-3 we would, as Andy Gray found to his dismay in Rome, copy their tactic of hassling relentlessly to win the ball.
That is what we did last night, especially at the start of the second half, forcing numerous mistakes that we should have taken advantage of. Earlier, the first half had been pretty even, Celtic having one chance on the break but somehow Vermaelen raced back from their box to make a goal-saving crunching mid-air challenge to put Scott Brown off his shot, just the sort of desire we have had in abundance going forward but lacked at the back and just one of the many times when Vermaelen's name was followed by the word clear. Song, throughout ran the show, not in the majestic nature of Fabregas but by breaking up almost every attack before feeding our attackers for a counter, even managing to beat three players in one great turn. Enough of our gallant defending, at times even I was taken aback by the quality of our football, some of the one-touch passing and back-heels better and more flowing than ever before but all too often it was broken down by either good Celtic work or a cynical foul that I was surprised to witness so often from Tony Mowbray's supposed "playing the right way" team, although I was very impressed by how we coped with it. It was from one of these fouls, Gary Caldwell going in late on Fabregas who was forced to ride the challenge. There was no contact but as witnessed by Steven Gerrard's penalty at Sheffield United, there doesn't have to be. Van Persie flicked the ball to Fabregas who smashed it goalwards only for the upper back of Gallas to divert it into the corner as he tried to duck. Gallas then had the audacity of a ten-year old in the playground to celebrate but it was an all-important goal.
It meant that despite not taking our early second-half chances Tony Mowbray was forced to revert from his "cunning plan" of playing Giorgios Samaras alone up front, something which could easily have come straight from the mouth of Baldrick, to two upfront with Fortune showing why he failed to impress at West Brom. Wenger then introduced Diaby for rshavin who made few telling touches but did often instigate the triangular moves and often showed his uncanny ability to control a ball no matter how badly Denilson or Sagna tried to feed him. Diaby's 20 minute cameo epitomised his Arsenal carrer to date. First, he showed terrifically quick feet to beat two before releasing Clichy who's cross into own-goal territory produced just that, Celtic captain Gary Caldwell getting his just desserts for leaving our captain battered and bruised by turning into his own net. Diaby then proceeded to lose the ball each of the three occasions he had it, leaving my father exasperated, a start against Portsmouth may be enjoyable for me sitting next to him.
We held out, although Celtic hardly threatened and despite the fortunate nature of the two goals, thouroughly deserved our win. We hardly, as Glen Hoddle noticed, got out of third gear but, displaying the gulf between SPL and EPL, didn't have to to look very comfortable. A job well done in Scotland and though it was neither raining nor February, Tony Cascarino should know it was as far North in Britain as we could possibly venture and I must say Tony, we handled it ok for a bunch of soft, good-football playing youngsters. Indeed, it seems it was Celtic who were unable to cope with our own energetic and physical approach and that mixed with our usual devastatingly good football seems a pretty intimidating mix and one that could just propel us to a pretty good season.