Steaua Bucharest 0 Arsenal 1 (Van Persie 76)
(Champions League Group H)
Another match, another facet to this Arsenal team that demonstrates both its growth and potential. It wasn’t the best performance, not a free flowing or dominant display, but a professional victory based upon a platform of solid defence and team work. Once again, very un-Arsenal.
The first ten minutes could’ve easily seen goals to both sides. First the Romanians showed how dangerous they could be from wide positions, one superb cross from the left being met with a poor header, while from the other flank, another dangerous cross was headed beyond Almunia, only for the flag to (correctly) go up. Immediately, at the other end, Cesc blazed high from six yards, admittedly after the ball had bobbled in front of him.
Clichy nearly opened his account for the club with a fluke – his cross was deflected towards the goal and their keeper acrobatically grabbed it as it was crossing the line. It didn’t quite make it, and the goal was rightly not given after a superb piece of athleticism.
The second half saw Steaua come back into it, and Iacob spurned their best chance – through on goal and with all the time in the world, he never looked confident and curled his shot well wide. He soon regretted it when Adebayor surged down the left flank, pulled the ball back and Van Persie accurately lifted the ball into the roof of the net. I’ll be honest – I initially thought the pass was for Cesc, who ran in front of the ball, but no matter. The team spirit was then emphasised by a crowd of players surrounding the big Togolese striker in congratulations for the pass. Great to see.
After that, the home side posed no threat, and with Seville comfortably dispatching Slavia in the other game, we are already three points clear with the double header against the Czechs to come next. Without wishing to think too far ahead, we could be through after those matches.
So, nine wins on the bounce now, and another type of victory earned – the ground out one in Eastern Europe, where we have such an appalling record. It is not just us – as in the Bernabeu two seasons ago, we became the first English team to win away at Steaua. That it is now expected tells you everything you need to know about the power of this group of players.
Some players in particular deserve a special mention – Senderos had his best game for a while at the back, and he really does seem to respond well to an extended run in the team. The full backs worked hard while Flamini busied himself in the middle. But a word for Adebayor – many times his final ball went astray or his latest idea didn’t quite come off, but he isn’t a player to get disheartened by anything, and he kept going right to the end. His determination and unflappability is extremely impressive, even when he isn’t having his best game, and I hope he continues to prove the doubters wrong.
Away from the football, and the cloud of Usbekistan continues to hover, with Alisher Usmanov continuing his PR crusade to convince the world that he is completely misunderstood. The first seeds of doubt between him and David Dein have already been sown:
We will try to convince David to be less hostile to the current board and make an effort to pacify the board in their conflict with him. I don’t want his personal relationship with the board to affect my relationship with them. I want to establish my own relationship with the board.”
Or put more simply, if Dein and the board continue to have irreconcilable differences, then having him on board means any discussions between Red and White and the board become automatically hostile. It remains to be seen whether this is an eventuality that bothers Usmanov. I suspect the perception of him as an individual doesn’t unduly worry him.
Finally, Ashley Cole truly is a complete idiot. But then you knew that already.