Arsenal travelled to Celtic Park on last night hoping to become the first English side to win there in 26 years, but most importantly to help seal qualification to the group stages of this seasons Champions League. It was the worst possible draw for the Bhoys following their narrow win against Dynamo Moscow in the previous round, yet hopes were still high at Celtic Park. As is always the case, this was billed as the battle of Britain. More appropriately one of Scotland’s finest versus 4th best in England. Arsenal remained unchanged from the side that demolished Everton at the weekend, with the most notable selection in personnel coming from the side from Glasgow. Following his heroics from the Dynamo Moscow encounter Georgios Samaras was preferred in attack to new signing Marc-Antoine Fortune.
There was a lively start to the encounter with Celtic managing to put some early pressure on the Gunners. Tony Mowbray’s second summer signing Daniel Fox provided good early delivery into the box from the left and Arsenal were struggling to get into their stride of free flowing passing. Despite this they did create the first chance. In fact, Andrei Arshavin had the ball in the net on 12 minutes after latching onto Robin Van Persie’s deflected effort. The Russian was clearly offside with the linesman correctly raising his flag. The first half continued at whirlwind pace but chances were few and far between with Boruc making a simple save from Arshavin before Almunia, unsighted by Samaras, smothered Scott Brown’s effort. It looked to be heading to half time as a deadlock until the Gunners fortuitously took the lead on the stroke of half time. Fabregas slammed a free kick from 25 yards and the ball deflected off the back of William Gallas spinning past the wrong-footed Artur Boruc into the corner of the net. Gallas seems to have taken the responsibility of being a senior member of the squad literally on his back as seen below.
The goal had caused some nervous Bhoys defending in the early stages of the second half with both Van Persie and Denilson looking to capitalise after the restart. Arsenal were then handed their second piece of good fortune. Shaun Maloney’s free kick appeared to be diverted onto the arm of Bendtner inside the box, but the Italian official waved away any appeal. It was the last real chance for the home side in the match as on 70 minutes; following his introduction Diaby sent Clichy down the left side. His cross was subsequently deflected into the goal by Gary Caldwell leaving the Glaswegians extremely dejected. Cesc Fabregas looked to profit from the deflated Bhoys late on but Boruc managed to block his stinging effort.
Good fortune may have been on Arsenal’s side but it was a good solid performance from the Gunners and proved a fairly comfortable evening for Wenger’s side.
Elsewhere in Europe there were good away wins for Olympiacos and Stuttgart. The tie between Sporting and Fiorentina did not disappoint with a 2-2 draw in Portugal. FC Copenhagen recorded a 1-0 victory over Apoel Nicosia.
Champions League play-off results
Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
FC Copenhagen 1-0 Apoel Nicosia
Tiraspol 0-2 Olympiacos
Timisoara 0-2 VfB Stuttgart
Sporting 2-2 Fiorentina