By Richard Clarke in Hamburg
Tomas Rosicky opened his Arsenal account in fine style as Arsène Wenger’s side cruised to victory over 10-man Hamburg at the AOL Arena on Wednesday night.
The visitors had taken an 11th-minute lead when keeper Sascha Kirschstein clipped Robin Van Persie’s heels as he weaved through. The Hamburg stopper saw red and Gilberto scored from the penalty.
The home side battled manfully after that but, seven minutes into the second half, Rosicky ended their resistance with a wonderful strike. He collected Van Persie’s pass 25 yards out, took a touch and curled a wonderful shot into the top corner of the net.
There was the briefest of flurries from the home side when Boubacar Sanogo scored in the 90th minute. But there was no denying Arsenal this evening.
Once again, what seems so tough in the Premiership seems simplicity itself in Europe. Still this was a perfect confidence-boost ahead of the trip to Manchester United on Sunday.
The impressive, imposing surroundings of the AOL Arena was a fitting place to start Arsenal’s ninth successive campaign in the Group Stages of the Champions League. Despite the victories over Zagreb in qualifying, memories of what might have been in Paris were still fresh in the mind for Wenger’s side.
Of course, Hamburg’s stadium had recent recollections of major matches itself. Five games had been played here during the World Cup Finals, including Argentina v Ivory Coast featuring Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue.
The pair kept their defensive roles this evening. In fact there were only two changes from the side that had drawn with Middlesbrough on Saturday. Thierry Henry had picked up a foot injury in training on Tuesday while Freddie Ljungberg was omitted. Emmanuel Adebayor and Rosciky were drafted in.
The opening moments were sketchy. Van Persie latched on to a miscued shot from William Gallas and fired over from an acute angle. Danijel Ljubola cracked a low effort past Jens Lehmann’s post. That was about it.
There was little indication of the drama shortly to unfold.
In the 11th minute Adebayor broke down the left, fooled Raphael Wicky and slipped a low cross-field pass to Van Persie just inside the area. The Dutch striker skipped around Kirschstein but the keeper thrust out a hand to haul him down. Van Persie tumbled, referee Peter Frojdfelt pointed to the spot and, in the absence of Henry, Gilberto scored past substitute keeper Stefan Wachter.
The Brazilian had taken already taken the armband from his French colleague and he did a more than impression of Henry with the penalty.
The Hamburg crowd voiced their disapproval but it was Arsenal who continued to sound out the new keeper. In the 20th minute, Rosicky reached the byline and cut the ball back for Van Persie on the edge of the six-yard box. His shot deflected off a defender but Wachter managed to smother the ball on the line.
Vincent Kompany nudged a header past the far post from Piotr Trochowski as Hamburg demonstrated they would not be sitting back. Almost immediately Wenger had to re-jig as Toure, who had picked up a knock on his thigh, was replaced by Hoyte. He slotted in at left back with Gallas joining Djourou in the centre.
Just after the half hour, Van Persie and Eboue both fired wide. The Dutchman, who was having an industrious game up front, then smashed a low shot at Wachter.
Ljubola forced a flying save from Lehmann in the dying seconds but, at the break, Arsenal looked comfortable. And, of course, they would be playing a tiring team in the second half.
Straight after the restart, Sanogo volleyed a cross to the far post and the unmarked Joris Mathijsen sidefooted wide when he should have at least employed Lehmann. It would be their last real chance to draw level.
In the 52nd minute Van Persie fed Rosicky and the Czech midfielder unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top left-hand corner of the net.
With the comfort of a two-goal cushion, Arsenal’s passing suddenly began to look succinct and incisive once more. The Hamburg crowd were as muted as their side.
Wachter saved Van Persie’s free-kick in the 66th minute. It would be the Dutchman’s last involvement. He was replaced by Julio Baptista soon afterwards. Mathieu Flamini came on for Hleb at the same time.
Gilberto nodded over Flamini’s corner with 15 minutes left but, by now, the fight had been drained from Hamburg. Or so we thought.
In 88th minute, Trochowski hit the bar and, when the ball was returned into the box, Sanogo managed to nod the ball home. However the Ivorian’s strike was ruled out for offside.
Seconds later, he legitimately breached Lehmann’s goal — for the first time in over 850 Champions League minutes - when he swept in a cross from David Jarolim.
It was too little, too late for Hamburg. But Arsenal are on their way once more in Europe.
Referee: Peter Frojdfeldt
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