Arsenal huffed and puffed and scored a wonder goal against run of play by Robin van Persie and then went on to concede a late equaliser of class at the dearth against Borussia Dortmund of Germany in the Champions League Group F away at the Westfalenstadion. The skipper started the move by stealing the ball in a sliding tackle and was fed through, obliging with a well taken goal on his weaker right foot.
The Gunners were out of sorts with Alex Song drifting out of position and Karen Gibbs giving his back to his man all the time. Song left a big void in front of the central defenders, exposing that department badly, but the inept finishing of Borussia played well for the London side. The situation rendered the usually ball winning abilities of the Cameroonian useless and loaded Youssi Benayoun and Arteta with massive workload and ground to cover. The midfield department seemed out of sorts until the late 2nd half when Song played his part and stabilised the midfield.
Arsenal would have had a better attacking impetus with two holding midfielders and releasing Arteta and Benayoun into attacking roles. In that match, the hard-working and gifted Gervinho could have been sacrificed for Emmanuel Frimpong and Theo Walcott and van Persie could have been assisted by the two midfielders into full attacking duties. I must admit the class of the goal that spoilt the night for Arsenal. Substitute Ivan Perisic volleyed on 88 minutes to steal the joy from the Gunners and save face after a dismal home display by the Germans. Arsenal showed character as the match went on, and there were signs they will get better with the passage of time this season.
In London, Chelsea engaged another Bundesliga outfit in the Group E, winning 2-0 win over a determined Bayer Leverkusen. The Stamford Bridge fixture was a Fernando Torres show as he set up both goals in professional fashion, firstly back laying up defender David Luiz after 67 minutes and then Juan Mata. Coach Andre Villas-Boas had the luxury of leaving out John Terry and Didier Drogba. The best thing about the match was the performance of young Daniel Sturridge who forced a good save from the goalkeeper at the far post. It was a tough encounter in which Michael Ballack made a ‘home-coming’ with a near miss against his old club.
The dog-fight match took place elsewhere, in a bruising AC Milan versus Barcelona in Spain. The Italians scored a record early goal by Pato and relinquished the lead and then went a goal down before they had the last say of the proceedings, pulling off a cool 2-2 draw in stoppage time. The reigning champions Barcelona had to summon all their talisman’s powers in front of the expectant Camp Nou capacity crowd.
It took Pedro in the 36th minute to square matters up and it was the result of one Lionel Messi’s magical ins and outs around the Italians defence and then a fine square ball for a tap-in equaliser. Barca took Milan by their horns and dominated play as they went a goal up until the incredible last minute effort levelled the matters, much to the obvious disappointment of the hosts.
On-fire Portuguese side, Porto, came from behind to beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 who had two men sent off for dangerous play, in the Group G match at the Estadio do Dragao. It was a match of plenty chances and wonderful goals. Shakhtar started stronger settling well, but Porto were almost on the score sheet after just five minutes when Hulk shot from range a left foot pile driver.
Hulk missed a much better chance to score when Rodriguez was felled in the area by Rakitskiy as he went for a one-two with Kleber. The Brazilian stepped up to take the resulting penalty, but his shot hit left-hand post with the goalkeeper going the wrong way. In the 12th minute, Shakhtar scored the opening goal of the game which Porto could have avoided.
Valencia could only manage a 0-0 draw at Genk’s Cristal Arena despite dominating the match. With 22 shots at goal compared to five by the Belgian side, Valencia would feel they needed more luck that technique. Genk put up a very spirited performance, containing the Spanish well trying to hit the opposition on the break. It was not a surprise that Valencia felt letdown by the result given their input and no result.
When all is said and done, it was a surprising Arsenal performance that almost surprised the Gunners players themselves and hopefully, it will be something to build up on in the domestic league. However, Arsene Wenger has got to appreciate that his central defense cannot play square, and needs a pair anchoring midfielders in the absence of a top-notch goalkeeper.