The visit of Shakhtar Donetsk went entirely to script as Arsenal secured another handsome victory in Europe, and three points that all but sees them through to the last-16. When the Ukrainian champions were drawn alongside Arsenal in the group stages, there was a sense that the meeting was pre-ordained and Eduardo’s strike did little to dismiss this notion as the former favourite registered late on in his return to the Emirates.
As promised, the Croatian international refused to celebrate, but given that his side were 5-0 down at the side, his joy would not have been too hard to contain. The announcement of his imminent introduction was greeted with rapturous applause and the Ashburton Grove faithful chanted his name upon entering the field. A genuinely likeable character, Eduardo always gave his all in the red of Arsenal and part of his generous reception must be attributed to a sense of pity at what might have been for such a talented player. This undercurrent was picked up by Arsene Wenger in his pre-match press conference when he identified: “I
Had he merely been a pleasant person who failed to make the grade, Eduardo would not have generated the sentiment so willingly displayed by Tuesday’s crowd and the dignity with which he has conducted himself, both in the wake of his horrific injury and departure from English football is a timely reminder to some of the modern day professionals. His consolation goal was greeted with almost as much enthusiasm as the result, demonstrating the potent effects upon the fans of combining hard work, honesty and an element of misfortune. The manner of the result also helped to ensure a warm welcome as Arsenal secured another emphatic Champions League win to leave them at the mid-way point of the group stage with a perfect record, making light of the manager’s warning prior to the clash: “In this group until now you had 12 points at stake – six went to Shakhtar, six went to Arsenal. That means what is at stake is the qualifying and also the top of the group, which is why it is a very important game.” More than anything, Shakhtar paid for a lack of ambition and made a potentially tricky tie, a mere formality.
On their way to the 5-1 thrashing, Cesc Fabregas’ penalty equalled Real Madrid’s record of 12 goals in the opening three group games as the Gunners went on to set the new target at 14 with goals from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh. The former has now notched six goals in nine games this season, a trait that Gunners fans hope will stand them in good stead as they head into a crunch match with fellow title-chasers Manchester City on Sunday.