That was a pleasant surprise. Three points, five goals and as good a performance as you can expect in a place like Turkey given the injury-ravaged nature of our defence.
The team selection was exactly as I predicted yesterday (hurrah!) with Robin van Persie dropped to accommodate the returning Abou Diaby to a five-man midfield. It proved to be the right move as Diaby had an excellent game and Cesc Fabregas was able to express his creativity in advanced role behind Emmanuel Adebayor. As expected, Alex Song and Mikael Silvestre formed the centre-defence partnership with Manuel Almunia wearing the captain’s armband behind them.
An utterly crazy game exploded into life in the 10th minute when first Emmanuel Adebayor then Theo Walcott both capitalised on perfect passes from Cesc Fabregas to shoot Arsenal into a 2-0 lead. Fenerbache responded ten minutes later when Daniel Guiza – who was a threat for the Turks all night – had his strike deflected in by the unlucky Mikael Silvestre. But our boys essentially put the game away when Diaby scored a marvellous goal, holding off two defenders before firing an excellent shot under Volkan.
Spanish striker Guiza continued his one-man show by having two good chances saved by Almunia and a third denied by the offside flag. But Arsenal held out until half-time to enjoy a healthy 3-1 lead and in complete control of proceedings.
Things got even better after the break when Silvestre and Song unexpectedly combined for our fourth. Fabregas swung in a free-kick, Silvestre won a header and Song smashed the ball home before celebrating in wild fashion. Guiza meanwhile continued his personal attack on Arsenal as Almunia saved again and Emmanuel Eboue cleared off the line twice to deny the follow-up.
Guiza finally got one over Almunia – literally – with ten minutes to go before substitute Aaron Ramsey scored his first goal for Arsenal with a lovely low strike from outside the box with the final kick of the match. It was a fitting end to a wonderful team performance and one that the Welshman particularly enjoyed.
I thought the return of Diaby really helped get the best out of Fabregas. Song and Silvestre did OK at the back despite conceding two goals, while Eboue and (will I get tired of saying this?) Gael Clichy impressed on the flanks. Walcott’s pace was a threat all night as he tore Roberto Carlos apart. He and Eboue seem to get along really well on the pitch and that could well be an indication of the type of relationship they share off it. It’s not unreasonable to think that Eboue’s presence in the squad has had a positive influence on Walcott over the past two years.
That’s all there is to say really. I would have been happy with a point so obviously I’m delighted with all three and a 5-2 win. Amazingly, it wasn’t the highest scoring game on an absolutely mental night of Champions League football as Villareal smashed Aalborg 6-3 and Lyon overcame Steaua Bucharest 5-3.
All in all an excellent showing by the team and another important step in the right direction.
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