Another trip to Russia, another poor performance and nothing to show for it. For some reason, the team – past and present – have a mental block when playing anywhere in the former Soviet Union and are unable to get to grips with the match on the night until it is too late. For all of the arguments about disallowed goals, it is probably fair to say that the better team on the night won whilst the players and Arsene can reflect on the first half being one of their poorer European performances in the last three seasons.
That said, there is little reason to believe that Arsenal cannot win the return by more than one goal, restoring their position at the top of the Group and ahead of CSKA should head-to-head results be required for qualification. The disappointment at not securing a point is tangible and probably more acute now that Porto have put four past Hamburg to be within three points of Arsenal in second place. Given the last game for Arsenal is in Oporto, it would be ideal if they could take six points from the next two games to allow themselves some sort of comfort zone going into that match. Obviously, a Porto defeat in their next matches in Hamburg and Moscow would not go amiss either although I am not holding out much hope of the Germans achieving a victory as they seem to have their fingers firmly on the self-destruct button either finishing matches with ten men or conceding soft penalties such as the one last night.
So what of the disallowed Thierry Henry goal? Well, he was not offside and it did not look to me a if it was handball but then I had the benefit of numerous TV replays to resolve that problem for me whereas the Assistant Referee had only his eyes, real-time, from about sixty yards away and on that basis, I can understand why it was given in that Henry’s bodyshape – proximity of the arm to the torso, both bent into a crouch slightly – gave the appearance of using his arm to control the ball. That does not make the decision correct nor does it give the officials their “Get Out Of Jail” card. It certainly does not allow the Referee the excuse of not retracting his yellow (not sure if this is possibly any longer but if it is an option then the club should press for the official to reverse that decision). An indication of the decision being incorrect was the lack of appeals from defenders around the Frenchman, most reacted with disappointment at conceding what they perceived to be a late equaliser with the relief being tangible once the “goal” was disallowed.
Pre and Post match interviews are normally dull affairs but of late, and not just those by Arsenal, they are becoming increasingly bizarre and full of paranoia. Which can be the only possibly reason Henry attributed the reason for disallowing the goal to the fact that “Arsenal are not a big club in Europe”. What?????? How about “the officials made a cock-up”? Chelsea take this attitude, attempting to intimidate officials beforehand but surely Henry does not seriously believe that the officials beforehand decide that nothing is going the way of the small club in the match? And in any case, CSKA Moscow are not one of Europe’s Big Guns which would mean that following Le Captain’s logic, the goal should not have been disallowed. I guess then that the next argument would have been that the official was a “Homer”. D’oh!
The winning goal was a rashly conceded free-kick, on the edge of the Area. Punishment was swift as Carvalho’s freekick was hit with pace and power. There could be criticism of Lehmann in that the ball passed within inches of the ‘keeper but I am not brave enough to take on the club’s resident psychopath so he gets the benefit of the doubt, beaten by pace and the bodies in front of him obscuring his view until late on. Djourou could be criticised for turning side on when trying to block the ball but this is an instinctive reaction and one that better players than he have done in the past and will do so in the future.
Chances were there for CSKA to extend their lead after that, Lehmann saving well from Carvalho and Toure’s excellent tackle late on stick in the mind particularly. Both sides had goals rightly chalked off for offside – Wagner Love (I think) for CSKA, Gilberto for Arsenal – van Persie wasted the opportunity to allow Toure to equalise when he got too close to the keeper with the Ivorian flying into the six yard box with the goal seemingly at his mercy. The second half defensively was quite loose with the team searching for an equaliser, gaps left at the back had to be shut with some last ditch tackles, Toure mentioned earlier and Djourou blocked one of the Muscovite Brazilians late on also as CSKA counter-attacked effectively.
The result is not the disaster that the red tops will no doubt portray it as, the Group emminently winnable. A win at The Emirates in a fortnights time will soothe those ruffled feathers, the following match against Hamburg should also yield maximum points. Four points would be no disaster either as that would require Porto taking six to join Arsenal on ten points leaving the teams requiring one point each in the final match to qualify. The battle may have been lost last night but the war is not over. Yet.