Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
You’d have to wonder what it felt like for Cesc Fabregas being the first in his Arsenal team to walk out onto Parkhead. There are only a handful of stadia worldwide that could be said to generate the same atmosphere when full of fans.
Much of the pre-game chatter from pundits centred on two ideas; that Celtic would have to use their crowd to make Arsenal uncomfortable and that Celtic would have to get ‘up close and personal’ with the North London side if they were to win. Arsene Wenger said earlier today that his side had travelled to many places around Europe and that it usually was the better footballing side that won.
Celtic started well, chasing Arsenal down when they were without the ball and moving forward with real purpose with the ball for a while. For the first five minutes, there was a genuine battle for possession as N’Guemo and McGeady were lively in midfield.
Even at this early stage, when Arsenal had the ball they were able to dictate the speed of the game. This was to be Celtic’s downfall as they were unable to stop Cesc Fabregas and company spraying passes left, right and centre.
After 12 minutes, Andrei Arshavin pounced on a Robin Van Persie shot after it deflected off a Celtic defender, and duly stroked it home, only to find out that he was offside. Both Vermaelen and Gallas were on excellent form to completely deny Giorgios Smaras- the player who had sent Celtic through against Dinamo Moscow- even a sniff at goal. Aiden McGeady was probably Celtic’s best attacker and had a couple of half-chances, but nothing particularly worrying for Manuel Almunia in goal for Arsenal.
There were a few half-chances for both sides before Arsenal really started to take control around the half hour mark. Denilson, Song and Fabregas took possession and repeatedly attempted to put Arshavin and Van Persie through on goal.
The breakthrough came just before half time, as a Fabregas free kick took a lucky deflection and went in off Gallas, who looked as if he was trying to duck to avoid the ball.
Gallas’ goal may have been slightly fortuitous, but it was no more than the Gunners deserved for a half which they largely dominated, despite being made work hard by Celtic.
Arsenal came out in the second half playing the kind of fast, flowing football which has become their trademark in recent years. Arsene Wenger’s philosophy of playing good football in spite of the hostile crowd seemed to be working, as the Parkhead faithful were nearly silenced by the speed at which Arsenal were able to attack.
There were chances for Denilson and Van Persie, who looked threatening all night, and a penalty appeal for Celtic after the ball struck Nicklas Bendtner on the arm. Gallas was also quite lucky to not score in his own net after he diverted a Marc-Antoine Fortune cross behind the goal for a corner.
Celtic were poor in the second half. After chasing Arsenal around during the first half, the likes of Brown, Donati and N’Guemo looked tired. Ex-Derry City winger Pat McCourt made a surprise appearance, coming in to replace N’Guemo with 14 minutes left.
Arsenal killed the game off as a contest completely in the 71st minute when a fine attack saw them move up the pitch with brilliant speed. Abou Diaby made a run down the middle and played it out towards Gael Clichy, who swung the ball in towards the Celtic goal where Caldwell obligingly put the ball into his own net.
The pre-game hype seemed to suggest that this was a simple case of Celtic, the team rich in tradition and with a huge fanbase but no real ‘star names’, playing against Arsenal, who were portrayed as a team positively oozing with class, often by the same pundits who regularly slate them when they play in the Premier League. The contest itself proved Arsene Wenger right; no matter what the atmosphere is like, play better football and you will win. Tony Mowbray’s ‘plan’ of packing the midfield did next to nothing to negate the passing power and sheer work rate of Fabregas, Denilson and Song.
Upon leaving Parkhead, one has to feel that it would not have been quite so daunting as it was a mere two hours previously.