By Richard Clarke
Nicklas Bendtner struck a late winner against Dynamo Kyiv on Tuesday night to secure Arsenal’s passage through to the Knockout Stages of the Champions League.
There were less than four minutes left when the Dane controlled a long pass forward from Cesc Fabregas and thumped home the only goal from 10 yards out.
It was a sweet end to the Spaniard’s first match as Arsenal captain and just about deserved on the night.
Arsène Wenger’s side started brightly and should have lead before the break but they faded in the final 30 minutes and the eventual winner came when Kyiv were starting to fancy their chances.
Still a win is a win. And Arsenal have been bereft of good fortune in recent weeks.
This was hardly the dawn of a new age but it was a welcome fillip.
And that will do for now.
All eyes were on Fabregas and William Gallas ahead of the game. Both had missed the defeat at Manchester City, but the Spaniard returned to take up his new role as skipper. The Frenchman was back in the side aswell but, in the circumstances, under barely any less pressure.
Speaking of pressure, Wenger had tonnes of the stuff right now. An indifferent set of results had come about amidst (or because of) a lengthy injury list.
The latest were Samir Nasri (knee) and Abou Diaby (abdominal), who joined the queue at the treatment table after picking up knocks in training on Monday. But they were well behind the likes Kolo Toure (calf), Theo Walcott (shoulder), Emmanuel Eboue (knee), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring), Bacary Sagna (ankle), Emmanuel Adebayor (ankle), Eduardo (ankle).
That meant Aaron Ramsey came in on the right of midfield with Denilson moving to the left to accommodate Alex Song and Fabregas in the middle. Carlos Vela joined Robin van Persie up front so Bendtner dropped to the bench. Gavin Hoyte, a Premier League debutant on Saturday, was also named as a substitute.
It is too much to say this was a brand new Arsenal but there was certainly a very different feel in the opening stages.
Kyiv needed to win to keep their Champions League hopes alive. Technically Arsenal needed a win but, in reality, a draw would probably be enough.
Wenger’s men started with intent. Vela seemed determined to build on his Carling Cup potential and set up Ramsey to fire a shot straight at Stanilsav Bogush after nine minutes.
In fact the Welshman would have all four of Arsenal’s chances in the opening half-hour. However perhaps only that first one, and his slashed effort over the bar, were truly worthy of mention.
Kyiv were happy to play on the break and, though it seemed dangerous, little was created.
In the 35th minute, Van Persie twisted and turned in the area before firing off a shot that bounced off the body of the Bogush. The Kyiv keeper was coming under increasing pressure as Arsenal’s movement pulled apart the defence in front of him.
Gallas even had the ball in the net soon afterwards but he was clearly offside when he flicked the ball home.
However, just as Arsenal looked ready to take control, the visitors nearly scored. Gallas slipped and Ismael Bangoura raced through on the left. His sidefoot hit the outside of the near post and went behind.
The Ukrainians had a let off of their own five minutes from the whistle when Van Persie whipped in a free-kick and Mikael Silvestre knocked the ball over the bar from five yards out.
The half-time interval changed little. A couple of minutes in, Fabregas curled a free-kick to the far post where Van Persie collected. The Dutchman’s first effort came back off the keeper and his second was blocked by Gallas when it might have been going in.
Yet again Arsenal looked ready to take over. But yet again Kyiv responded with their best chances. Bangoura fired wide before Olexandr Aliyev crashed a drive in to the chest of Alumunia.
Suddenly the game looked wide open. Arsenal had been broadly on top throughout the game but Kyiv were now playing cup football.
However the impetus did not last and it was no surprise to see Wenger bring on Bendtner for Ramsey midway through the half. Jack Wilshere replaced Vela for the final 15 minutes. In doing so he became Arsenal’s youngest ever European player at 16 years 329 days.
The youngster had not touched the ball when Almunia saved point-blank from Artem Milevsky. The entire Arsenal defence was waiting for an offside flag that never came and the Spaniard’s stop was crucial.
But Arsenal could have sealed their passage through a minute later when Bendtner arrived inches too late to meet Van Persie’s penetrating low ball across the face of goal.
After that it seemed that Arsenal had settled for the point. With Porto winning in Fenerbache it was good enough in any case.
Bendtner’s quality finish made sure. However it was pretty incongruent with the run of play at that time. Aliyev’s second yellow card for pushing the referee was stranger still.
Still Arsenal go through. Let’s hope they have regained all their former strength by the time the Knockout stages comes around in February.
|2. FC Porto||5||3||0||2||7||8||9|
|3. FC Dynamo Kyiv||5||1||2||2||3||4||5|
- Fabregas (C)
- Ramsey 68
- Persie Yellow Card
- Vela 76
- Bendtner 68 Goal! Yellow Card
- Wilshere 76
FC Dynamo Kyiv
- Ghioane (C)
- Aliev Red Card
- Asatiani Yellow Card
- Milevskiy Yellow Card