What a game! I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any other game this season as I enjoyed this one. The wins against Blackpool and Braga were fantastic and there were some other entertaining displays but I felt this game was the best exhibition of football.
For this I must congratulate Shakhtar for their contribution. I thought they were excellent defensively in the first half except for the mistake by the goalkeeper. The visitors showed how to defend by excellent pressing and reading the game. They denied us space in their half and limited the number of chances we could create.
I was also impressed by their attempts to play the ball on the ground. The composure shown by their defenders and the keeper while passing the ball amongst themselves was worth appreciating. In the same vein, Arsenal’s pressing high up in the visitors’ half was a joy to behold.
I know many pundits in England don’t often get the beauty of the game. Unless the ball is fizzing around in the penalty area it seems to them that the attacking team isn’t doing anything. Similarly, a lack of flying tackles makes them feel that defending has been easy. Perhaps this led many to comment at half time that the game was being played at a slow pace and nothing was happening. The commentator was also surprised by the possession stats because he failed to notice how much Shakhtar were trying to play and how effectively Arsenal were negating their efforts and vice-versa.
But if you love proper football you’d have seen this was an exciting game played at a high tempo. This is reflected in the passing statistics. Arsenal completed 598 out of 699 passes while the visitors completed 502 out of 610. You can’t get those kind of numbers without excellent technical quality and a high tempo. I’ve no doubt Shakhtar will provide a much sterner tests in the comfort of their stadium with their fans behind them.
In the end, I thought Arsenal’s superior quality in the final third and a little hesitancy on the part of the visitors made a big difference. The scoreline was flattering but they players will tell you it wasn’t an easy win by any stretch.
I was quite happy with the patience we showed in the first half. Shakhtar were working hard defensively and we were probing, waiting for a mistake. The first goal came from a corner and it was good to see us get value from a set piece. Nasri’s delivery was quite good and I think it was Squillaci who got the first header and directed it to the back post. The Keeper stretched to collect when his defender was about to clear and dropped the wet ball. Djourou was on hand to poke it away from the Keeper and Song finished, albeit with some luck.
This is the kind of luck you make with constant pressure. I’d also give credit to Djourou for being alert and to Song for being opportunistic. The Cameroonians first attempt was an ambitious back-flick (not really sure how to describe that attempt). I think he tried that because he didn’t have time to land on his right and swing his left foot at the ball, which was to his left and behind his left foot. The defender made a sliding block but unfortunately for him, the ball hit Song and bounced over the line.
The game didn’t change much after the goal. Arsenal continued to probe and Shakhtar maintained their discipline. The second goal came from another forward run by Song, this time on the right flank. His cross was deflected towards Nasri at the top of the box and the Frenchman showed good control with his right foot before finishing with a blast from his left.
After the second goal Arsenal relaxed a bit and it became easier for the Ukrainians to bring the ball out. I was happy with our defensive shape and the way we limited their chances. I don’t think Fabianski was tested even once during the first half.
We got the third when Luis Adriano did what he might have seen countless times in Premier League games. He wrestled Djourou to the ground. This being a group game in Champions League the penalty was rightly given. Had it been a Premiership game or the later stages of this competition (as Chelsea found out against Inter last year), such a rugby tackle might have been deemed acceptable. Fabregas scored with a perfect strike giving the Keeper no chance even though he guessed the direction.
The best goal was the fourth one. Chamakh played a deft flick into the path of an onrushing Wilshere who exchanged a quick one-two with Rosicky before dinking it over the Keeper. Chamakh got the reward for his hard work when he was found by a delightful chip from Nasri. The Moroccan couldn’t believe he was onside but had enough time to glance over at the assistant before finishing the job. In this case the commentator was right; he should have finished first and looked at the linesman later. But I’m not complaining.
It looked like we were going to keep the clean sheet and I was really happy about that, even more than the goals we’d scored. But we conceded late from a crisp Eduardo finish that was applauded by both sets of fans. I thought Squillaci could have done better there. He tried to close the gap between his legs but a sliding block would have been a better option.
This result should all but confirm qualification and another home win over Partizan will probably secure top spot. Hopefully, Wenger will be able to rotate his players for the remaining two away group games.
Fabianski: One decent save, couldn’t have done anything for the goal, not much else to do.
Eboue: Decent defensive shift, made some forward bursts, and contributed to the shape of our team. I was a little worried when he made runs from right back to the centre and then down the middle or even the left side.
Squillaci: Might have done better for the goal we conceded. Fairly strong defensive performance on the whole.
Djourou: Vital contribution for the first goal. Good defensive presence.
Clichy: Excellent. No mistakes at the back, some driving runs, a couple of good crosses, nice interceptions and tackling.
Song: Another game where he kept darting from box to box. Worked hard, scored a good goal, created another, good interceptions and defensive presence. I thought he also made a couple of mistakes. His slip in a dangerous position led to the Fabianski save. On another occasion he wasn’t aware of the ball at his feet right on the edge of our box.
Wilshere: Continues to impress. Good off the ball movement, passing, reading of the game, and great goal. Must curb his tackling instincts. Many will surely give him MotM. I’ll put him second.
Cesc: Was the key to our first half. Dropped deep often and controlled the game. Didn’t have any of his trademark defence splitting passes but that was more due to the excellent work by Shakhtar. Attempted 78 passes in 64 min. That shows how important he was against the visitors who were putting us under pressure. My man of the match, even though it was not an eye catching performance, it was a critical one.
Rosicky: Wanted to impress and did just that. Good work up and down the flank, did his share of defensive tracking, neat passing and movement, some excellent turns. I also liked the runs he made from right to the centre. Got the assist for Wilshere goal, could also have won a penalty in the first half.
Chamakh: I’m getting tired of saying how good he was. This is his sixth consecutive Champions League game in which he’s scored. Excellent work rate, good presence in and around the box, lovely flick that led to the fourth goal.
Nasri: Did well on the wings although I’d have liked a little more directness, supported Clichy well, good corner and a couple of good crosses, well taken goal and a delightful assist for Chamakh.
Subs: Denilson was energetic and did a good job defensively, Theo and Arshavin didn’t get many chances. I was surprised Arshavin was even sent out on the pitch. I’d have preferred Gibbs getting a few minutes.