Arsenal are making the Champions League look easy after Shakhtar stroll
Arsenal 5 Shakhtar Donetsk 1
THE Champions League is supposed to be the ultimate test, but Arsenal are barely having to break sweat to make it through to the last 16 this season.
The Gunners have three wins from three, nine points from nine, and have scored 14 goals in the process, a new Champions League record for the first three games.
Alex Song, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and Marouane Chamakh were all on target as Shakhtar were brushed aside at the Emirates, and another win in the Ukraine in a fortnight’s time will see Arsenal through with two games to spare. Realistically, a solitary point from their final three games will probably be enough.
Arsene Wenger defended his side against the accusation that the group Arsenal have been handed this season is simply too weak to contain a threat to his side, but he knows the competition will get far tougher than this come the knockout round.
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“I believe we made it easy because we had a good team performance,” said Wenger afterwards.
“When you win 1-0 it’s too difficult, when you win 5-1 people think it’s too easy. It’s difficult to assess always why did you win 5-1.
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“What happens in the Champions League is that teams who play in the Champions League are used to dominating their [domestic] championship and they play. You do not only play against teams who defend. When you are then superior you always have a chance to score goals.”
And score Arsenal did. Shakhtar arrived unbeaten in all competitions so far this season and not having conceded a goal in the Champions League but it took the Gunners just 19 minutes to make those impressive statistics an irrelevance.
The opening goal will not be a moment the Ukrainians’ goalkeeper, Andriy Pyatov, will look back on with much satisfaction, dropping Tomas Rosicky’s corner under no pressure and allowing Johan Djourou to nudge the ball into the path of Song who scored with a cheeky reverse flick that was aided by a deflection.
Nasri almost doubled the lead with a rasping volley that Pyatov did well to parry, but then did so two minutes before half-time, swivelling to control a cross from the industrious Song and rifling a shot past Pyatov into the roof of the net for his sixth goal of an increasingly profitable season.
The only worrying moment of the half for Arsenal came from another question mark raised over the temperament of Wilshere, who caught Shakhtar’s Tomas Hubschman with a late challenge that was not punished with the booking it warranted. The Gunners will miss the teenager at Eastlands on Sunday.
Shakhtar had been so disappointing in the first half they simply had to improve after the break, and they briefly flickered only to be undone by another piece of brainless defending.
Luiz Adriano is more potent in the opposition box than his own, and perhaps it was the creeping frustration on the night that tempted him to wrestle Djourou to the ground almost in a headlock.
Fabregas, reinstated to penalty duty despite Nasri’s three successful attempts in his absence, crashed the spot-kick high past Pyatov.
Now Wenger was happy to start thinking about the weekend and Fabregas made way for Denilson having played just over an hour in his first game for a month.
Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night then rang out for Shakhtar substitute Eduardo, although you feel no amount of sympathy will ever quite replace the feeling of cruel injustice that still lingers over his injury-ravaged Arsenal career.
He could do little initially to stem the flow of Arsenal attacks, with Wilshere exchanging passes with Rosicky to chip home an impudent fourth and then Chamakh doing the same with Emmanuel Eboue to make it 5-0 with 20 minutes remaining.
But then Eduardo had his moment, benefiting from some terrible marking from his friend and former team-mate Denilson to convert a cross with a deft flick of that left leg that had been so badly maimed that day at Birmingham.
The Emirates crowd rose to their feet to applaud him and, if anything, it only served to make the night even more perfect for Arsenal.
Any worries about the outcome of this game or, for that matter, qualification from the group stage for an 11th successive season, had long since disappeared into the night.