I thought I’d put a photo here showing that there were some players running around during tonight’s match, despite what your eyes may have led you to believe
Before the game Arsene promised that the team would not be playing for a draw, rather that they would go for the win. The inclusion of Flamini suggested that he had gone out there with the sole intention of not losing, a slight twist on words and as my four year old is want to say, “Just teasing“. And he got it spot on, job done, qualification assured as was top spot which counts for little given the quality of three of the seven teams that can be faced in the Round of Sixteen. It matters not what the performance was like for tonight was all about securing the necessary point to get through. That qualification was secured anyway through CSKA’s defeat in Hamburg is irrelevant. The team had a job to do and they did it. However, it may have come at a high price with Djourou suffering a hamstring injury; we wait to see how serious it is otherwise Sunday’s team may include Gilberto or Hoyte as makeshift centre-half alongside Senderos with Gallas having about a 20% chance of being fit. I should point out that the 20% is an ‘Arsene’ 20% which means Gallas will no doubt be fit and sprinting around like a new-born spring Lamb.
The performance in many respects reminded me of the Villarreal match last season; happy to surrender possession, the home team nearly getting a goal but in the end progress made. It was a difficult night for them to gauge how to play; do they push forward or do they sit back and try not to concede, knowing that if they do it could be difficult to equalise?
Prior to the match, it was interesting to read how supporters and Arsene were saying that it would be a disaster or a blow (respectively) for the team to drop into the UEFA Cup. I think I may have been in a very small minority of those who thought that there would have been a silver lining in that cloud in that it may well have lowered expectations in the long run and allowed the team to gel away from the bright lights and overhype that goes with the Champions League. That is not to say that I wanted it to happen, of course I didn’t but more importantly that I was not overly concerned for one season if it had. Anyhow that strange bout of perverse optimism passed with the blowing of the final whistle tonight.
I guess I should mention the three close run things that would have had collective hearts in mouths for a few seconds. Porto obviously had not read the script at the start of the second half, Quaresma striking Lehmann’s right hand post twice whilst Assuncao came close with a twenty five yard effort in the first but I think the BBC hit the nail on the head, “Both sides seemed to settle for the point they needed after that brief flurry of activity and the game petered out in the final 30 minutes“. And why not? Neither side wanted to jeopardise their own chances of qualifying.
Not that I am complaining but this match indicates all that is wrong with any League format for what is essentially a cup competition. When two teams require one point to progress, you do not need collusion to ensure a draw, just good old-fashioned human nature – “we can progress if we do not try to hard because they won’t either” will prevail. Perhaps UEFA will look at the point scoring system to bring some sense of urgency to the proceedings if this bothers them. Bonus points for a clear two goal win with more awarded for every goal over three scored in one game. Might make things more interesting. And before you think I’ve taken leave of my senses, under that method Porto would have topped the Group with 17 points, Arsenal second with 16, some eight points clear of CSKA meaning the whole evening was less stressful which was obviously my whole intention in concocting that little points scheme.
And so to Round Two, the runners and riders for that will be:
|Seeds||Runners – Up|
|Manchester United||PSV Eindhoven|
As I look at that list, I am not unhappy with first place. As for who I would prefer or not, I guess my choices would be:
3. PSV Eindhoven
5. Real Madrid
Whilst Barcelona are not in the most sparkling of form at present, remember that this round is played next February by which time I believe that Eto’o will be back, making a huge difference to them. There is a sense of wanting revenge but personally, I just want progression by the easiest possible route. But we shall see. As it is I’m just going to enjoy the fact that despite a turbulent few weeks on the pitch, Arsenal are through.