Sevilla 3 (Keita 24, Fabiano 34, Kanoute pen 89) Arsenal 1 (Eduardo 11)
When Sevilla came to the Emirates in the opening match of the group, it was with a huge reputation to live up to. That day, they appeared outclassed, out of their depth and every bit the competition newcomers. Last night, the real Sevilla turned up, the team that has won back to back UEFA Cups with one of the most exciting brands of football in Europe.
For the first twenty minutes, however, it was all Arsenal. Slick and controlled passing irritated the whistling crowd, and when Eboue’s remarkable back heel travelled down the touchline, Bendtner whipped in an inch perfect cross, and Eduardo, coming in from the left wing, controlled, kept his balance and slotted into the empty net, after the keeper had unnecessarily joined Alves trying to stop him.
The crowd were silenced and the home team in disarray, chasing shadows. And then, out of nothing, they equalised. Senderos, looking woefully short of match sharpness, sliced a clearance to the dangerous Navas, and Gilberto tried to turn his whipped cross away from danger, rather than behind the goal. It fell kindly to Keita, who rifled a superb shot into the roof of the net.
From that moment on, Sevilla took control, and had Kanoute not been so profligate, the match would’ve been over by half time. His misses meant that the Spaniards went in only 2-1 ahead, thanks to Fabiano’s header from Alves’ driven free kick. It was clearly a move from the training ground but Toure was too slow closing the Brazilian down.
Once ahead, Sevilla are a difficult side to peg back. Eduardo came close before half time, while Eboue should’ve had a penalty in the second, but I can understand why the referee didn’t give it – the Ivorian had been theatrically rolling around and play acting for most of the first half, and when he went down I groaned, thinking he’d spurned an excellent position by diving. It was only on seeing the replay that I realised it was a genuine foul. His reputation is not helping him.
A penalty was then given at the other end for handball against Senderos, when it clearly struck him squarely in the chest. After consultation with the linesman, and perhaps after playing the incident through again in his head, he rescinded the decision. Bizarre.
But Sevilla did eventually get the third goal they deserved, when a combination of Toure and Sagna brought Kanoute to the floor, and the former Spurs man slotted the penalty home. In truth, it was no more than they deserved for some stunning approach play – had the team’s finishing been better it could’ve been an absolute hiding.
Elsewhere, Wenger was sent to the stands, presumably for complaining to the fourth official too much, but without anywhere obvious to stand (he was well within his rights to watch the match and not go down the tunnel), he simply stood a few feet behind the dugout, much to the chagrin of the officials. Cesc went off with a hamstring strain, but hopefully that was just a precaution.
Although the loss was convincing, and sees us lose top spot in the group, it isn’t a match to lose sleep over. Some shadow players got some excellent experience, and with Aston Villa playing a full team against Blackburn tonight, it may actually be our first team guys that are more rested for the weekend. Playing Sevilla away is hard enough with a full strength side, but with so many players missing a draw would’ve been a terrific result.
And some players showed flashes of brilliance. Bendtner stuck out, playing superbly up front on his own – his strength and hold up play was excellent throughout, and with the two central defenders chipping away at him all match, he kept his cool admirably. But most impressive was his distribution, clever passing angles regularly created openings that some more in form players may have made the most of. He is certainly pushing Adebayor for his place at the moment.
Eboue is another who played well, although only when he concentrated on his football. The man really is maddening, he plays so well and then decides to act like a plank for half of the game. He could be great if he just sorted his head out.
Senderos has come in for some stick today, and it is true that he had a poor game, but he is just returning from injury and he always has taken a while to get back up to speed. With Toure off in January, the big man has an important role to play, as I’m not convinced Djourou is ahead of him in the pecking order just yet – his performances at Birmingham haven’t been overly convincing either.
I must confess to being a little disappointed with Eduardo. It is obvious he prefers playing up front, but he was stationed on the wing to help protect Traore against the dangerous Alves and Navas down that flank. But too often he left his full back exposed by not tracking back, and you cannot afford that slackness against this class of opposition. A minor complaint, perhaps, but if he is playing out there he must do that job.
So the unbeaten run comes to an end, but of all matches, it wasn’t a bad one to lose. Winning the group is not out of the question, with Sevilla facing a tricky tie in Prague, and the hosts needing a result to qualify for the UEFA Cup.
The weekend match is a big one – Villa are in hot form right now and Martin O’Neill’s teams are always difficult to beat on their own patch.
Until then, don’t panic – one defeat in seven months isn’t something to cry over.