By Richard Clarke
The battle of Europe’s most fluent footballing sides was emphatically won by Arsenal on Wednesday night at Emirates Stadium.
The pre-match hype surrounding this game had suggested Arsène Wenger and Juande Ramos were in charge of the most eye-catching outfits on the Continent so this would be a cracker. After a slow start, the game more than matched its billing.
Arsenal ran out worthy winners through a deflected drive from Cesc Fabregas in the 27th minute, Robin van Persie’s close-range effort just before the hour and Eduardo’s simple strike in injury time.
Not only did it seize the initiative in Champions League Group H but the manner of this victory will, no doubt, make the rest of Europe sit up and take notice.
It may be very early in the season but, on the strength of this performance, Wenger’s men are real contenders in 2007-08.
There were two changes to the side that had come from behind to beat Tottenham. Gilberto and Abou Diaby both dropped to the bench. Philippe Senderos came in at centre back for the former, Tomas Rosicky replaced the latter on the left of midfield.
Despite the hype, the opening was hardly a humdinger. Both sides prodded and probed each other with crisp passing but there was precious little to show for it. The only chance of the first 12 minutes was long-range drive by Jesus Navas that whistled just over the bar.
Just before the quarter-hour, Van Persie forced Andres Palop to paddle a shot wide. Almost immediately, Flamini fired low into the area and the goalkeeper spilled the ball in front of him, Adebayor could not quite convert the rebound.
In all honesty, up to this point the game was not living up to its exalted billing. It certainly was not a poor game, just not the crackling showpiece many had predicted. Both sides were perhaps all too wary of each other to display all their attacking potential.
As it turned out the opening goal was laden with irony. With all the vigour and endeavour among these 22 players it took an old-fashioned piece of unadulterated good fortune for Arsenal to go ahead.
In the 27th minute, Federico Fazio clumped a clearance straight to Alex Hleb on the right. He tapped the ball forward to Fabregas who let fly. His effort smacked off the back of Julien Escude and floated past the wrong-footed Palop.
The Spaniard was having an incredible season in front of goal. In six starts he had already exceeded his four goals from last season. It was possible that this one would go down as an own goal by the Frenchman.
Sevilla were rightly stung by the goal. They did not deserve to behind. However their response was only more of the same — frantic passing with no real end product.
Just past the half-hour, Rosicky tossed a corner into the area and the flying Toure nodded a miscued header across face of the Sevilla goal.
Just before the break Adebayor bombed down the left and bustled himself some space in the area. Unfortunately, he sliced his effort well wide.
That effort was sandwiched between long-range strikes from the visitors. The one from Navas was woeful, the one from Fredi Kanoute brought a fine full-stretch save by Almunia.
As the half had gone on, this game has started to heat up. Like so many Arsenal matches this season it had been fast, furious, fulfilling - and ended with Wenger’s side in front.
There were changes at the start of the second half. Striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov came on for Sevilla. Four minutes in, Rosicky came off for Diaby because of a hamstring injury.
Once again the start of the half was slow. The pace of the first period was still apparent but chances were relatively scarce. Arsenal were edging proceedings and it was no surprise to see them extended their lead.
Fabregas fired in a free-kick from the left, Bacary Sagna steered a header into the six-yard box and the unmarked Van Persie stabbed home from close range.
Sevilla should have hauled themselves back into the tie almost immediately. Daniel Alves whipped in a dangerous cross from the right but somehow a visiting leg failed to convert from yards out.
Sagna had set up the second and was starting to enjoy some space down the right. His floated cross saw the diving Adebayor flashed a header wide then a lofted ball was hooked goalwards by the sliding Van Persie.
By now Ramos had brought on the last of his two substitutes. The visitors were now chasing the game.
With 11 minute left, Sagna nodded clear from a dangerous cross by Navas. There were couple of minor scares in the closing stages but nothing likely to breach the Arsenal defence.
In injury time, Eduardo rounded off a flowing move with the third goal.
- Fabregas Goal!
- Rosicky 49
- Persie 87 Goal!
- Adebayor 84 Yellow Card
- Diaby 49
- Diarra 87
- Eduardo 84 Goal!
- Alves Yellow Card
- Fabiano 46
- Keita Yellow Card
- Kerzhakov 46