Arsenal’s ‘Battle of Britain’ tie against Celtic has been the talk of the week with the Gunners earning a fortuitous, yet deserved 2-0 Champions League play-off first leg victory over the Bhoys at Parkhead. Facing the Bhoys at Celtic Park in front of such a passionate and fanatical 58,000 strong support was always going to be mighty tough, especially when considering Celtic’s superb recent home record against English sides in he competition of just one defeat in their last eight meetings.
Arsene Wenger’s boys arrived north of the border basking in an emphatic 6-1 opening day Premier League victory over Everton but a Champions League play-off tie against Tony Mowbray’s SPL runners-up was a different ball game, as English sides, including Manchester United, froze under a Celtic blitz for the last 26 years. Yet, on a gloomy Glasgow night Arsenal produced a clinical and professional performance to put one foot in the group stage of the lucrative UEFA Champions League. The away side controlled the game throughout, having more of the possession and creativity, but when the goals arrived the home fans were crestfallen given their unfortunate nature. Firstly William Gallas deflected a Cesc Fabregas free-kick into the net to break the deadlock a couple of minutes before the interval. The second goal came nineteen minutes from time when Celtic skipper Gary Caldwell turned Gael Clichy’s left wing cross past his own keeper Artur Boruc, to hand the Gunners a vital lead to defend at the Emirates next week.
Wenger was really impressed with his side’s performance against a tough side like Celtic and he paid tribute to the home side’s passion for the game: “I think it was a fierce battle. 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.” The Frenchman also added in his post match conference, “I believe we forced them to make one or two mistakes at the back. I conceded that we were lucky on the goals today but we had plenty of opportunities in the second half where we missed the final ball and final pass. I give credit to my team, even at 1-0 we didn’t drop off and we kept playing very high up and put them under pressure. That was a very positive attitude. I felt, from my impression, that the atmosphere was outstanding. It’s even better than in the Premier League. People were fair and Celtic, for me, were well organised and I couldn’t see them ever give up, even at 2-0. It was always difficult for us to get the game going. Sometimes they made the foul they needed to make but overall I was impressed by their attitude.”
On individual performances, new summer signing Thomas Vermaelen has been a revelation and his rapport with Gallas is one of the reasons for Arsenal’s flying start to the season. The Belgian is a class act by his own standards and his maturity on the field is excellent for a man who has played just a couple of competitive games for the Gunners. Andrei Arshavin’s guile and trickery would give the north London side an almighty European edge over their rivals should the Gunners see off Celtic in London come Wednesday. The Russian was instrumental in destroying Celtic’s physicality on the pitch with his skill and quick passing with the Gunners faithful quickly taking to their little wing-wizard.
Come Saturday, normal Premier League duty resumes with struggling Portsmouth visiting N5. The fans look forward to this season’s first home game and the noise will be deafening given the air of confidence and belief that has engulfed the red side of north London. Off the pitch Arsenal football club has confirmed the recruitment of three high-level members of staff under new CEO Ivan Gazidis. The following statement from the club’s official website confirmed the recruitment: “Arsenal is delighted to announce that after an extensive recruitment process, it has filled three senior executive positions at the Club, with the appointment of a new Chief Commercial Officer, General Counsel and Head of People and Operations. Vastly experienced professionals in their respective disciplines, Tom Fox (Chief Commercial Officer), Svenja Geissmar (General Counsel) and Trevor Saving (Head of People and Operations) will all be joining Arsenal’s Senior Management Team by the end of September.”
Arsenal Club Focus
Pre-season preparations take a few hits – July 29
Gunners as prepared as they can be for Everton – August 12
Gunners gear up for vital ‘Battle of Britain’ clash – August 18
Fortuitous Gunners revel in Glasgow win – August 21