Oct 232008

Fenerbahce 2 (Silvestre og 19, Guiza 78) Arsenal 5 (Adebayor 10, Walcott 11, Diaby 21, Song 49, Ramsey 90)
(Champions League Match 3)

A crazy night in Istanbul has left Arsenal in a dominant position in Group G, needing just one more win to qualify with three games remaining, two of them at home. Going forward some of the football was absolutely scintillating, at the back there was less to write home about, but it made for a great spectacle.

Predictably, the atmosphere was electric, even though the hosts had made a dreadful start to their season, but two goals in two minutes silenced one of the loudest stadiums in Europe (Asia, technically). Both were cookie cutter goals, Fabregas first sliding Adebayor through, who avoided the offside Walcott to finish coolly, before Cesc then played the same pass to Walcott himself, the on-fire man rounding Volkan to make it two.

A hostile and tricky trip had just been 70% won, and had Nasri’s effort not been superbly saved moments later, it would’ve been over after a quarter of an hour. As it was, slack marking from a free kick allowed Guiza a free volley, the ball cannoning in off Silvestre, but any thoughts of a comeback were almost instantly repelled by a fine run and finish from Diaby, making his return to the starting lineup.

The second half saw Song, playing at centre back, smash home a great volley after awful defending from a free kick, Guiza beat the offside trap to pull one back, before Ramsey fired in off the post in injury time to score his first for the club. Hard to imagine that he only made his professional debut for Cardiff in January of this year.

From an attacking point of view, the performance was practically flawless. Five different goalscorers, some clinical finishing, and a wonderful display from sometimes unheralded players. Diaby, making his first start after injury, showed no signs of lacking fitness in a superb performance behind Adebayor. He caused problems all night with his dribbling, and looked far more the offensive threat than the holding midfielder he is often described as. That said, at times he filled in that role, and did so perfectly well. His adaptability could be a great help this season if he could just stay fit.

Cesc was magnificent again, setting the tone for the match with his two early killer passes, while Walcott scared the life out of their defence. Nasri was up and down, but his threat from wide positions was part of the reason their defence was so stretched, allowing Cesc to pass through them.

At the back, the story wasn’t so good. Silvestre and Song played a very high line, allowing Guiza to threaten the offside trap a number of times, and while this was obviously a ploy, they were sometimes very fortunate to get away with it after some poor positioning.

Silvestre was rusty, to say the least, while Song is looking more and more like a central midfielder with every game he plays in defence. He has come on leaps and bounds over the past two seasons, but although Gallas and Toure haven’t been up to their usual high standards recently, they will certainly be welcomed back.

A word though for Manuel Almunia, captain for the night. What a superb performance he put in – an early block set the tone, he acted as an alert sweeper all night, making a couple of cracking saves, and organised his makeshift defence well, even showing rare exasperation at the marking for their first goal. He was outstanding, and gave a true captain’s performance. Gallas, take note.

The final word goes to Eboue – he was also excellent, making a couple of very brave blocks (yes, really), before turning provider for Ramsey’s fifth in injury time. If he can keep that level of performance up, he really is going to change our minds about him.

Overall, the signs were very good, although tempered by the fragility of the defence. But make no mistake about it, five goals in Istanbul is some achievement, and even the home fans knew it, applauding our players off the pitch. One foot in the knockout stage means that the league takes priority again, with West Ham and then Spurs to play in the next week.

More about those games when they get closer, but enjoy the afterglow of another excellent display of attacking football. Dull we certainly aren’t.

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