Another positive step taken last night as Arsenal beat Dinamo Kiev 1-0 at the Emirates to secure progression to the second round of the Champions League.
All eyes were on Cesc Fabregas as he lead the boys out for the first time as captain and the Spaniard responded with a superb game, controlling the tempo in the middle before setting up Nicklas Bendtner for the late winner. Fabregas will no doubt have tougher tasks ahead of him as captain of Arsenal but his relaxed and confident performance was certainly a good start.
The side that started was virtually the same one I predicted yesterday, the only difference being that ex-captain William Gallas and Johan Djourou lined up at centre-back and right-back respectively and not the other way around. Carlos Vela got a deserved first Champions League start while Bendtner was removed from the starting line-up. In midfield Aaron Ramsey got the nod on the right with Denilson on the left while Alex Song played the defensive role next to the captain in the middle.
The first half was one of few chances with Arsenal really only threatening from set-pieces. Kiev were well-organised across the pitch and a lot tighter at the back then I thought they’d be. Ramsey had a couple of half-chances and Gallas had a neat finish chalked off just before the break after straying just offside.
Up the other end our defence was rarely threatened apart from an Ismael Bangoura strike which struck the post. The chance was created by an error by Gallas and the Frenchman as well as Manuel Almunia – who was committed to cutting out a potential cross by Bangoura – will be counting their lucky stars that the score stayed level. It was the pair’s only real blemish of the game however, as Gallas in particular put in a strong performance despite the tension of the situation, something Arsene Wenger was quick to point out after the match.
The second half was much the same as the first with Arsenal having a lot of the ball but not doing much with it. Like the Manchester City game a lot of ball was given away cheaply (particularly by poor old Denilson on the left) as the team understandably struggled to be creative with the likes of Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott unavailable.
Just a quick word on Denilson - I thought his performance was really poor tonight. I’m not trying to target the young Brazilian but I am really struggling to pick out what the manager sees in him just at the moment. He’s not particularly quick with mind or body nor is he overly tough in the tackle. His redeeming qualities are undoutedly his ball control and passing but tonight those abilities deserted him as well. Given the composed performance of Song in the middle I think it’s time the manager gave young Denilson some time away from the spotlight because he’s really struggling just at the moment.
The manager made two changes either side of the 70 minute mark, replacing the bubbly Vela and the impressive Ramsey with Bendtner and Jack Wilshere. The latter became the youngest ever Arsenal player to play in a Champions League and blended in superbly, his pace and movement stretching the Kiev defence as the game wore on.
Late on Almunia made a nice block to keep us in the game while we were lucky to survive a couple of very close offside calls at the back. Then, with the clock ticking down and a draw looking likely, Bendtner expertly controlled a wonderful pass from Fabregas and fired home the winner. It was a superb strike by Ol’ Pink Boots and an even better pass by the captain.
Kiev were down to ten men shortly after when Oleksandr Aliev crazily pushed the referee and got himself sent off. It was no less than he deserved and a big karma kick up the backside after he was involved in a horrendous piece of play-acting earlier in the half. What goes around comes around, I say.
So, three points collected, qualification to the next round assured and a win to start of the new captain’s reign. The result – if not the performance – will be a huge boost ahead of the Chelsea match and with unity apparently restored in the squad the players and fans can look to that clash with some optimism.
Let me know what you think.
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