Last night’s 5-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk was one of the easiest European victories in recent seasons. We’ve thumped Slavia Prague 7-0, crushed Braga 6-0 and thrashed countless other teams, but it is hard to remember a more comfortable Champions League fixture than Shakhtar, a club that I believed to genuinely threaten us for top spot in the group.
I must admit that I missed the opening twenty minutes of this fixture including Alex Song’s goal (a quick note to anyone who plans to travel to Berlin and use the S-Bahn: Oranienburger Strasse is not the same station as Oranienburg), but the consensus in the pub was that we were in complete control from the get-go. I also have to admit I laughed when I found out the goalscorer – Song! Again? Who does he think he is? – and chuckled even more when I caught a replay of the goal.
The return of our brilliant captain obviously had a big impact on the game. He formed a terrific midfield triangle with Jack Wilshere and Alex “Batistuta” Song that buzzed with energy, creativity and most pleasingly, physical presence all night. It reminded me of the days before Aaron Ramsey’s injury: three players in the middle with excellent technical skill, who can all tackle and were willing to do so at every opportunity.
Despite having plenty of the ball Shakhtar never came close to challenging the influence of our midfield and it was no surprise we went in at half-time two goals ahead after Samir Nasri popped in a second. Dario Srna should have done better with the cross but Nasri’s finish, like Marouane Chamakh’s winner against Birmingham, was that of a man in form.
The biggest surprise of the night was the absence of Eduardo from the Shakhtar starting team, but by the time he was introduced to the fold it was 3-0. Johan Djourou was hauled down by Luiz Fabiano (who seems to have stolen his looks from Manchester United’s Anderson and his name from Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano) and Fabregas powered home a perfect penalty into the top-left corner. I felt some sympathy for Nasri at this moment: it seems he is very much back to second in the penalty-kick pecking order.
Eduardo’s introduction initially did nothing to slow the Arsenal assault as Wilshere and Chamakh added the fourth and fifth shortly after. Wilshere finished off a delicious move with the goal of the night, switching off his targeting computer after hearing the ghost of Obi Wan Carlos Vela to clip home a perfect chip. Meanwhile Chamakh was released by another beautiful pass, this time by Nasri, and had time to check if he was onside before bundling the ball home.
With the game safe at 5-0 there was only one man that the crowd wanted to see get a goal, and he wasn’t playing in red. Eduardo obliged, firing in a technically-perfect, immaculately-controlled half-volley to give the crowd what they wanted. It’s hard to criticise the manager’s decision to let Eduardo go when his replacement, Chamakh, has been so impressive, but the quality of his goal left me thinking of what could have been had he not been so badly injured. I suspect Eduardo may have been thinking the same.
So 5-1 it ended and as far as preparations for Sunday’s crunch game with Manchester City, this was as perfect as it gets. Three of our key creative players – Fabregas, Nasri and Chamakh – were given an early bath while Andrey Arshavin and Abou Diaby were given nights off. Injuries aside, that will be the front five who starts against City and it is a great bonus that they will be in such excellent physical shape.
All in all a wonderful night of European football, given an extra cherry on the top by Eduardo’s cameo and some extra chocolate sauce with the successful return of Fabregas.
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The editor and chief writer of AFCB, Andrew Weber is the man who started it all. An analytical and thoughtful writer, Andy has been entertaining readers of the blog for over three years and is also a keen football culture connoisseur.