Arsenal 3 (Eduardo pen 28, Eboue 53, Arshavin 74) Celtic 1 (Donati 90)
(Champions League qualifier, 5-1 agg)
Another win and three more goals takes the tally to fifteen in just four games, but rather than focus on that, there is only one talking point for everyone this morning – Eduardo’s dive to win the penalty.
Let’s get one thing cleared up straight away – it was a dive. Yes, there was slight contact, but if we had been the defending team, we would have no hesitation in condemning the opposition player. It looked like a dive at full speed, and was proven so in the replay.
I’m not looking to condone it in any way – not only was it a bit unseemly, it was also completely pointless – Celtic never looked like threatening, so for Eduardo to throw himself to the ground in that situation really does the player no favours.
That said, the outrage it has sparked has been frankly ridiculous. You would’ve thought Eduardo had broken someone’s leg by the reaction of the Celtic players and the press. In fact, come to think of it, the coverage is almost as complete as when Eduardo did have his leg shattered.
Players win penalties with dives all the time. I’m not saying I like it, quite the contrary, but it seems the media do seem to latch on to the occasional one and make an enormous fuss. It reminds me of the infamous Pires dive against Portsmouth in the Invincibles season – no worse than a thousand other instances in the same season, yet the player was vilified, and suffered with referees from that moment on.
Consider this – when Gerrard won a crucial penalty in the group stages (against Atletico, if my memory serves) last season, was he condemned? Of course not. In fact, he was practically praised for his professionalism, the word the commentators use when the penalty is one they were hoping for. Gerrard is my example simply because he dives on a regular basis and is never brought to task. Eduardo dives once, and is now public enemy number one.
Of course, Gerrard is English, but we’ve had plenty of examples of foreign players hurling themselves to the floor without this kind of hysterical reaction. More likely is the fact that the media want to avoid praising us for an excellent start to the season and an incredibly comfortable sweeping aside of Celtic, given that they wrote us off so completely just two weeks ago.
Personally, I’d rather concentrate on the performance, which was excellent. After restricting Celtic to one tame shot on goal in the first leg, Almunia was again untested until Donati’s stunner in injury time, by which time they were five goals down.
After Eduardo’s penalty, there were two wonderfully worked goals – Eboue finishing the first after a sweeping move, and Arshavin making a fool of his defender before doing the same.
There were terrific performances all over the park – Gallas was again excellent at the back, and still found time to surge down the right wing in a moment that summed up our superiority, Vermaelen was a rock, Song and Denilson stopped everything Celtic tried to create, and what can I say about Eboue? He was excellent last night, and fully deserved his goal. Hungry and committed, he moved with purpose, and although his final pass is still sometimes careless, his improvement is remarkable. Long may it continue.
So we move into this afternoon’s draw in the pot of top seeds. I have a sneaky suspicion that after a couple of years of easy groups, we’re going to get a brute this time. There is plenty of scope for it – Lyon, Inter, Juventus and Real lurking in Pot 2, Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid in Pot 3.
But in the meantime, just enjoy last night’s performance. The dive was a sour point, but don’t let it detract from the complete dominance we showed throughout the two legs. If that’s the best Scotland can offer, let’s hope for Rangers in the next round.