Arsenal moved closer to winning its group in the opening phase of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League, with Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin orchestrating a scintillating display as the Gunners romped to a 4-1 victory over AZ Alkmaar at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Arshavin played the role of creator throughout the match, assisting on three goals as Arsenal dominated their Dutch visitors from the opening moments. Fabregas continued his fine form by scoring two goals, with Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby also hitting the back of the net.
With two games left in Group H, Arsenal now sit on top with 10 points, four more than Olympiacos and six ahead of Standard Liege, who will visit the Emirates on November 24. Victory in that match will not only assure that the Gunners qualify for the competition’s knockout rounds but also guarantee a first-place group finish.
The Gunners were in full flight from the kickoff, with Robin van Persie narrowly missing two early chances for Arsenal, sending a right-footed effort just wide of Sergio Romero’s goal before blasting a short free kick against the Alkmaar wall moments later.
Fabregas’ first goal came in minute 25, slotting one into the near corner after receiving a pass from William Gallas. Just before the break, Nasri doubled Arsenal’s lead after being played in on goal by a fine through-ball from Arshavin.
The home side’s dominance continued after the break, with Arshavin again the provider as the Russian found Fabregas for a one-time finish in the 52nd minute.
And while the first three goals were quality, Arsenal’s final tally may have been the most brilliant of the bunch. On the counterattack, substitute Eduardo da Silva sent Arshavin down the right side with a sumptuous backheel before the Russian centered a ball for Diaby to collect and fire home.
The only blemish on the scoreline was a late consolation goal for Alkmaar on the counter six minutes from time, after what appeared to be a handball claim for Arsenal in the visitors’ 18-yard box.
The 4-1 win extends Arsenal’s unbeaten streak to 12 games in all competitions, and marks the first time Alkmaar manager Ronald Koeman has lost to the Gunners.
Koeman, whose PSV side knocked the Gunners out of the Champions League three seasons ago, believes Arsenal can go far in this year’s competition. “They have a lot of qualities but it’s very young and maybe they miss a little bit of experience that other teams like Chelsea and Barca have,” said the Dutchman in his post-match comments to the press.
“One bad day and you can lose against everybody. It’s not one team better than the rest — it’s very close,” added Koeman. “But Arsenal can go a long way in this competition.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also has belief in his squad and was impressed with the night’s result. “It was a brilliant performance because we dominated our subject technically, tactically and overall we felt never under threat. We played with the needed confidence, technically astute, overall very happy.
“We are consistent and this season it looks like we go for game to game and get stronger and stronger,” continued Wenger (in an interview featured at http://www.arsenal.com). “It’s important to keep that attitude to progress, to improve and to play for each other even more. Then we can believe in our future.”
While the Gunners are now all but assured of a spot in the Champions League knockout stages, the manager admits that “the competition gets more difficult the further you go on. I believe we have quality and I said before the season started that I believe in this team. But it will be down to us to grow as we do at the moment and be consistent. Then we see how far we can go in the competition,” he said.
For now, Wenger would rather “focus on ourselves and be as good as we can. If we meet somebody who is better, we will see,” added the Frenchman. “At the moment, it is more important for us to focus on how we want to play, and we have played the game tonight like we love.”