Tag Archives: Champions League

Arsenal Dominate Alkmaar In 4-1 Win


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.”


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Alkmaar Earn Draw With Late Goal


Arsenal were moments away from capturing all three points from its Champions League group match at AZ Alkmaar on Tuesday, only for the hosts to claim a last-second equalizer with a stoppage-time goal from David Mendes da Silva.

The single point earned from the 1-1 draw maintains the Gunners’ place atop Group H, with seven points from its first three games. But Olympiacos’ win over Standard Liege yesterday in the other group match — thanks to its own stoppage-time goal — has the Greek side just one point behind Arsenal, halfway through the competition’s opening stage.

So, what could have been a comfortable five-point margin for Arsenal in the group, with one foot firmly in the knockout rounds, has been reduced to a single point. This leaves some additional work for Arsene Wenger’s side before qualifying out of the group stage, but the Gunners do have two of the remaining three Champions League matches at home to help secure its spot in the next round.

While not dominating this latest midweek European encounter, Arsenal did seem in charge for most of the match in Alkmaar. The visitors had more of the chances in a quiet opening period, with Robin van Persie denied on two clear attempts on goal.

Arsenal did break through with a goal ten minutes before halftime. Andrey Arshavin collected a misplaced Alkmaar pass and fed the ball down the left channel to van Persie, who unselfishly centered for Cesc Fabregas to direct into the net.

Alkmaar looked a bit more dangerous in the second half, going close a number of times. And with the Gunners not playing up to the standards of its seven-match win streak, the outcome remained in the balance.

Arsenal substitute Carlos Vela looked to have given his team a penalty chance six minutes from time when he was taken down by Moussa Dembele. But referee Martin Hansson waved play on, giving Alkmaar hope for a last gasp opportunity on Vito Mannone’s goal.

And that chance came deep into injury time, from a free kick inside Alkmaar’s own half. Graziano Pelle nodded down the long kick for Mendes da Silva to volley home, leading to jubilant cheers from the home crowd as their team snatched a point at the death.

While Arsenal might seem content with a road draw in this competition, the result seemed more like a loss to defender Thomas Vermaelen. “We were in control, there were no big chances for AZ but in the last minute they scored. It feels like a defeat,” said Vermaelen in an interview on ITV.

“You know that in the last five minutes of a Champions League match, anything can happen,” said manager Wenger during his post-match interview (seen online at http://www.arsenal.com). “They have thrown everything forward and felt they could only score on a set piece, and that is what happened.

“It is frustrating because we looked closer to scoring a second than conceding, but credit to them, they did fight well and went until the last minute,” continued the Frenchman. “We are still in a strong position. We have three games left, two at home, and I believe to win one game will qualify us.

“What I want is for us to continue to play like we do, focus to play better,” added Wenger. “In football, you have to produce the maximum result with your game, and tonight that did not happen.”


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Arsenal Dominant In CL Victory


Arsenal romped to its fifth straight win in all competitions with a dominating display in a 2-0 Champions League victory over Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

While in control of the group stage match from the opening minutes, the Gunners needed late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin to overcome the stubborn Greek side, who were kept in the game by some fine saves from keeper Antonis Nikopolidis.

Cesc Fabregas did beat the gray-haired Greek with a strike as early as minute 17, but his effort struck the crossbar. The rebound came out to Tomas Rosicky, who fired back on goal only to be denied by Nikopolidis.

That chance was set up by some fine interplay beginning with van Persie and Arshavin, who each had additional efforts in the opening half that were saved by the visiting keeper.

Just after the break, Olympiacos had a header off of a corner saved by Vito Mannone, in what amounted to its best chance on goal for the evening. After that, it was all Arsenal as the hosts looked to capture its second group win in as many matches in this season’s Champions League opening stage.

As the match passed the hour mark, the Gunners continued to apply attacking pressure. But like a number of occasions in recent years, the home crowd were urging on their Gunners in search of an opening goal during a game in which they should have been ahead by a couple goals by that point in the proceedings.

Eduardo da Silva soon replaced Rosicky, who looked his old creative, energetic self with a fine return performance in European competition. And just one minute after Carlos Vela was brought on to add more spark for Arsene Wenger’s side, the Gunners were finally able to break the scoreless deadlock.

The 78th-minute goal was set up by a through ball from Fabregas to Eduardo, whose timely run and cutback pass led to a goalmouth tap-in by van Persie.

Relieved to have finally broken through, Arsenal’s players continued to control possession while looking for a second goal, which came four minutes from time. Substitute Aaron Ramsey controlled a stray Olympiacos pass and fed a ball down the right-side channel to Fabregas, whose low cross was directed in by Arshavin’s crafty back heel flick.

The Russian looked to be slightly offside on the replay, but the goal was allowed. And considering the domination by Arsenal throughout the evening, no one was complaining with the decision on the play.

And though the goals came late, Wenger was not complaining either. “I’m very happy because we had a great first half with outstanding quality,” said the French manager in his post-match comments. “Unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage of it and at half time it was 0-0. It’s difficult to maintain that pace and quality for 90 minutes.

“In the second half our physicality dropped a little and our fluency went a little bit as well. It’s important then not to make a mistake and to dig deep and hope that they die a little bit more than us and take advantage in the last 20 minutes,” continued Wenger in the interview (featured on http://www.arsenal.com). “I think we dominated from the first to the last minute and Olympiacos defended very well. They were well organised and disciplined and gave absolutely everything for 90 minutes.”

That effort from the Greeks could have frustrated a young team such as the Gunners, yet Wenger was pleased with his team’s desire throughout. “I felt that for them to keep that focus, that concentration and the goalkeeper that quality for 90 minutes would be difficult.

“I always had hope but it’s true that we played 4-2-4 at one stage and that is always a gamble because you can be caught on the break,” added the manager. “I felt we kept composure and kept going. What I liked in our performance tonight was that we always played with a desire to keep the discipline in the team because that is very satisfying. We did not do anything crazy. We have matured and a game like that shows it.”

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Brave Battle-Back In Belgium


Arsenal avoided a third straight road loss by coming from two goals behind to defeat Standard Liege 3-2 in the opening group stage match of this season’s Champions League campaign on Wednesday.

Hoping to steady the ship after back-to-back Premiership losses in Manchester, the Gunners only made things tougher on themselves with a couple of early mistakes that had Standard Liege 2-0 up less than five minutes into the game at Maurice Dufrasne Stadium in Belgium.

With the home supporters in a frenzy before the match — the first-ever CL group stage appearance for their team — even they were surprised by the shocking developments in the opening moments. After Eduardo da Silva failed to clear a corner for the hosts two minutes in, Eliaquim Mangala collected at the edge of the area and fired one past Vito Mannone, the young keeper starting only his second first-string game for Arsenal.

The 21-year-old Italian keeper’s next touch of the ball was again to pick it out of the net, courtesy of a penalty struck by Milan Jovanovic. The Standard striker converted from the spot in the fifth minute after referee Eduardo Gonzalez ruled that he was clipped in the box and brought down by William Gallas.

Caught cold in the initial European encounter, the Gunners continued to struggle throughout the first half, as their vaunted passing game failed to take hold. While beginning to control possession, Arsenal had few solid chances on goal until the last minute of the half.

Abou Diaby’s surging run in minute 45 led to a fine goal from Nicklas Bendtner, who slotted the ball past Sinan Bolat and cut the lead in half, giving Arsenal hope for the second half.

The second period almost began like the first, as a blunder by Alex Song gave Standard a chance in the first minute only for a Gael Clichy tackle to thwart the opportunity. Seconds later, Tomas Rosicky almost played Bentdner in for an equalizing chance but the Dane was stopped by a perfectly-timed challenge from Mangala.

Arsenal soon gained control, with the home side content to retreat and look for chances on the counter. Although the visitors’ pressure didn’t lead to many chances, the Gunners were beginning to wear down the Standard defense.

Aaron Ramsey replaced Rosicky just before the 70-minute mark, and just as two more substitutes were set to be inserted nine minutes later, Arsenal levelled the match from a free kick. A goalmouth scramble off a floater from Fabregas saw Thomas Vermaelen bundle home after a touch from Song, who could have been ruled offside on the play.

But the goal was allowed, and with Standard’s players looking a bit deflated, the Gunners continued to pressure for the game-winning goal. The next few minutes saw an Eduardo strike saved superbly by Bolat, while a Vermaelen effort from a corner was cleared off the line by a defender.

Another Arsenal corner (in the 83rd minute) did produce the deciding goal, with the Gunner’s third tally coming off the knee of Eduardo, who was only allowed to play when UEFA annulled its two-game ban of the Croation one day prior to the match.

The visitors then held on in the closing minutes for the spirited 3-2 comeback win, ending the losing streak while opening its Champions League campaign in winning fashion. And while the match again exposed some weaknesses of Arsene Wenger’s young side, it also perhaps answered a few critics who have argued that this current Arsenal team can no longer grind out results when not at their best.

Wenger believes the dramatic win will boost the spirit of the squad, telling reporters after the match: “I believe it was important. When you are at a big club, you cannot afford to have too many defeats on the trot. It was important to respond, after being 2-0 down. This will strengthen belief within the camp.”

“We know that inside we are strong enough to turn games like this, and that is what we proved in Liege,” added Tomas Rosicky, who started his first match in a year-and-a-half for the Gunners. “We knew that after the two defeats in Manchester, we needed a result.”

After the long spell on the sidelines, the Czech midfielder admitted in an interview (featured on ESPN’s soccernet.com) that he is not yet in peak form. “I am not anywhere near my best, and still have plenty of room to improve. I will get better.

“I am fired up to win a trophy and enjoying being back. It is good that I can be part of this team back again,” continued Rosicky. “Offensively we are very strong and I can help with that.”

The strong, flowing offensive attack is certainly evident at Arsenal, yet some critics still argue the North London side need an improvement in defensive steel along with an added mentality to “win ugly” at times to be considered true challengers for trophies this season.

Wednesday’s initial Champions League match was certainly one in which the Gunners prevailed when not at their best, suggesting that winning mentality could emerge at Arsenal in the team’s quest for domestic and European honors this 2009-10 season.

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Gunners Cruise Into CL Group Stage


Arsenal continued its strong start to the season, defeating Celtic 3-1 at the Emirates on Wednesday to capture its Champions League qualifier and advance (5-1, on aggregate) to the competition’s group stage.

Coming into the Celtic match with a two-goal advantage thanks to some fortunate bounces in last week’s away leg at Parkhead, Arsenal benefitted this time from a questionable penalty awarded when Eduardo went down in the box just before the half hour.

Judged to be brought down on the play by Celtic keeper Artur Boruc, Eduardo seemed rather to tumble to the turf without much contact at all. With the decision, the Croatian then calmy converted from the spot to score the game’s first goal and put the Gunners three-up on the aggregate scoreboard.

Eduardo’s actions have received much criticism since the incident, and my thoughts on the matter mirror those of the famed Arseblog, who made this succint statement in his blog today: “I’m not trying to excuse him or justify it but a little perspective is needed. Eduardo’s dive was not his finest moment but in the grand scheme of things it meant little and he does not deserve the kind of vilification he’s received from some quarters.”

While the SkySports commentators and some media reports focused more on the dubious penalty, it was Arsenal’s fluid passing game and collective movement that again was the difference versus Celtic, with the home side able to open up their opponents’ defense seemingly at will.

Second-half goals from Emmanuel Eboue — who was this writer’s “man of the match” — and substitute Andrey Arshavin put the European tie out of reach for the Scottish visitors, who again looked a determined side but couldn’t create many quality chances on goal.

Celtic did pull back a goal in injury time, when Massimo Donati brilliantly volleyed past Manuel Almunia. But that offered only slight consolation for their manager Tony Mowbray, who commented after the match that his team wouldn’t play a side in Europe as good as Arsenal again this season.

Arsene Wenger said afterwards “that in the two games Celtic were well organised and showed some great mental qualities. They never gave up at any moment, and for me, they are a good side. They were always one behind the score and when there is a technical difference between the two sides, it makes it even harder.

“We are now in the top, top league in Europe, with all the big names,” continued the Arsenal manager in his post-match press conference. “Somebody told me our team tonight had an average age of 23.9 years. That means if we can get out of the group stage, then in six months we can be even stronger.

“That is what we want to focus on, to continue to improve our team play, the speed of our game and show that we have made big improvements come Saturday (at Manchester United),” added Wenger. “We are orgainised and structured to go forward. The price we pay is sometimes we concede as well, but as long as we score, we do not worry too much.”

In just a couple of hours, Arsenal will find out the three European teams drawn into the same group with them for the opening phase of this season’s Champions League.

The Gunners — along with such notable teams as Barcelona, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Sevilla and the three other Premiership sides qualified for Europe’s top club competition (Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea) — are all included among the eight teams seeded within Pot 1 of the 32-team draw, meaning Arsenal would avoid facing any of those listed above until the knockout rounds of the competition.

*** UPDATE TO POST: Arsenal have been drawn into Group H for this season’s Champions League. The Gunners are top seed in the group, joined by Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos of Greece and Belgian club Standard Liege. ***

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Cesc Out Of Celtic Match; Reserves Win


Although a morning test on Cesc Fabregas’ injured hamstring proved reassuring, manager Arsene Wenger reported that the midfield captain will still sit out the second leg of the Champions League playoff with Celtic on Wednesday.

Substituted at halftime of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Portsmouth, Fabregas has been the sole new injury concern for an Arsenal side looking ahead to the huge Premiership encounter at Manchester United on the 29th.

“His scan was quite reassuring as he has no muscular strain, but it will take a few days to settle down,” said Wenger in Tuesday’s press conference. “There’s a chance he’ll be fit for Old Trafford.”

Despite the injury to the influential Spaniard, Wenger believes his talented squad can cover for Fabregas and still retain the effective new formation put in place for this season.

Without planning to reshuffle the 4-3-3 setup that has produced 12 goals in three games, the manager hinted that Aaron Ramsey — who replaced Fabregas for the second half of the Portsmouth match — may be in line for a start in midfield against Celtic.

“I still have the personnel who can come in,” Wenger told arsenal.com’s Declan Taylor. “It is another chance for Ramsey. It’s a big season for him but don’t forget he is only 18.”

Taylor reports that despite the upcoming clash with defending league champions United and a 2-0 advantage over Celtic, the manager is not thinking about rotation for the Champions League playoff as qualification is of utmost importance for Arsenal.

“My target is to win tomorrow’s game, it’s a massive game for us and after that we will see what we do for the weekend,” said Wenger. “I will not rotate as a result of the Man United game.”

“It’s not job done (yet), it’s job to do. That’s how I approach it,” continued the manager. “We have done a big part of it but the most important (thing) is to get over the line and that’s what we want to achieve tomorrow.”

In other team news this Tuesday, Arsenal’s Reserves opened their season with a 3-0 win over Fulham at Underhill on Monday evening, with Gilles Sunu, Francis Coquelin and Roarie Deacon bagging the goals.

Coquelin looked particularly impressive in midfield for the Gunners, who started a bit slow but were able to assume command of the match after the half hour. Sunu opened the scoring in the 39th minute, holding off his defender on a run down the left side before blasting past the keeper.

A Sunu corner was headed in by Coquelin two minutes later (above photo, taken from the arsenal.com site), providing Arsenal with a 2-0 lead at the break. Arsenal’s dominance in possession and attack continued throughout the second half, as Jay Simpson and Nacer Barazite each had a number of chances on goal, only to be denied by keeper Neil Etheridge.

But it was the substitute Deacon who netted the third and final goal of the night. Scoring for Steve Bould’s Academy side on the weekend in a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United, the young English winger finished off a nifty one-two with fellow substitute Rhys Murphy with a left-footed strike from just outside the box.

The Arsenal Reserves’ next match comes away to Birmingham on September 1st.

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Lucky Or Not, An Ideal Result


Arsenal will take a two-goal advantage home to the Emirates Stadium for next week’s second leg of its Champions League qualifier with Celtic, thanks to a 2-0 win over the Scottish giants at Parkhead on Tuesday night.

After scoring some wonderfully attractive goals in the 6-1 romp over Everton Saturday, Arsenal’s tallies in this European tie were far from beautiful. The first goal came just before the half, when a Cesc Fabregas free kick took a wild deflection off the back of William Gallas and ended up in the corner of the net. The Gunners’ other goal was courtesy of Celtic defender Gary Caldwell, whose stretch to block a dangerous Gael Clichy cross could only divert the ball into his own net.

Some viewers might consider the result a bit lucky for Arsenal, who did benefit from some fortunate breaks on both goals. But if either team looked more likely to secure a lead from this first leg it was the visiting Gunners, who now seemingly have one foot in the Champions League group stage with the road win, which represents the first victory in a European tie by an England side at Celtic Park in more than 25 years (since Nottingham Forest in 1983).

“We have a good advantage but it’s 180 minutes; we’re ahead after 90,” said manager Arsene Wenger in the post-match press conference. “When you want to go through you want to play well for 180 – that’s our purpose. Even with an advantage of two goals we want to finish the job at home.”

Admitting that the match was a fierce battle within a tough setting, Wenger added: “I felt collectively we dominated the game, but Celtic were always willing, fighting and counter-attacking. In the end, despite being in control, we scored two lucky goals. It was a big fight tonight and we needed a strong Arsenal side to win the game. The crowd and players were absolutely up for it and I believe with an average performance we would not have won the game today.”

While Celtic manager Tony Mowbray felt the nature of the goals was very disappointing for his side, he told Sky Sports: “But you can’t take it away – Arsenal were very good on the night, exceptional with the ball but brilliant without the ball.

“We struggled to pass the ball against very high pressure and I think Arsenal really gave us a lesson with the ball and without the ball,” added Mowbray.

That heightened pressure and slight formation change employed by Wenger’s side this season has proven very effective, even if none of the front three (of Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bentdner) have yet to score a goal in these first two games. Each has been effective in creating chances for themselves and for teammates.

Instead, the goals have been coming from the midfielders and defenders, areas considered to be weak spots by various pundits in their pre-season predictions. But more impressive than the goals from these positions has been the defensive roles performed by these players, with Alex Song and Thomas Vermaelen particular standouts in Arsenal’s opening fixtures.

New boy Vermaelen again looked strong and confident in the center of defense versus Celtic, and his pairing with Gallas already seems solid. Song, maligned in the past as not being up to the standards required for title contenders, displayed strength in the defensive/holding role in the middle of the park, consistently breaking up the attacks of the Scottish opponents.

Fellow midfielders Fabregas and Denilson, who were both mentioned as doubts a day before the match, each played the full 90 minutes in effective fashion. One benefit the two-goal advantage could offer to Arsenal is the opportunity for Wenger to sit out one of the hard-working midfield trio in the second leg next week, to have them fully rested for the Premiership match at Manchester United the following Saturday.

As the two-legged Champions League playoff falls within a demanding opening-month schedule for the Gunners, the 2-0 away scoreline is ideal. For it now forces Celtic to score at least two goals at The Emirates to even have a chance at overcoming Arsenal, and it also takes some pressure off next Wednesday’s return date, allowing Wenger to juggle his personnel to set things up to his liking in preparation for the massive league encounter at Old Trafford.

One more advantage that last night’s result may bring is an additional signing or two for Arsenal by the end of this summer’s transfer window. I am among those who believe that Wenger and Ivan Gazidis were hesitant to spend the cash taken in from the Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure transfers before being certain that the team had qualified for the Champions League group stages.

With participation in Europe’s top club competition — and the money it brings in for a club — not yet totally assured with the 2-0 win at Celtic, the Gunners do look a solid bet to make the group stage and therefore profit from some of the massive Champions league revenues for yet another season.

So, after the bulk of the summer without any incoming player since June, perhaps we will now see more focused attempts at bringing in that additional defender or hard-type midfielder that pundits and supporters alike believe is required for Arsenal to seriously challenge for trophies this season.

We’ll know soon enough, as the transfer deadline is less than two weeks away. Judging by the impressive way the Gunners have been performing on the pitch lately, maybe that one additional piece to the puzzle will be all that’s needed for Arsenal to capture some long-awaited silverware in the 2009-10 campaign.

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