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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Cesc Fabregas is the youngest Arsenal captain since Tony Adams and, appropriately enough, the new era began much like the old one. The Gunners were tentative and unsure of themselves, but recovered their composure to sneak a victory. One nil to the Arsenal? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

In the end, Nicklas Bendtner's controversial late winner didn't affect anything. Arsenal would still have qualified for the next stage with a goalless draw, but the confidence boost for man and team is immeasurable. In poor form this season, Bendtner is no fan's favourite, but he took a huge step back into their good books with his composed finish in the 87th minute.

Arsenal had dominated the first half, but struggled to find a way past Dynamo Kiev's offside trap. The Gunners have been caught offside more than any other Champions League team this season, mainly because of Emmanuel Adebayor, who is easily confused. But even without the big Togolese striker, the Ukrainians had them befuddled. The Gunners were so used to the sight of the linesman's flag that, on the one occasion in the first half that Robin van Persie timed a run correctly, he stopped and gave up, assuming that he'd been caught.

However, while there was much to admire about Kiev's tactical awareness, their moral compass was decidedly squiffy. The otherwise impressive Olexandr Aliyev drew howls of protest from the crowd after a miraculous recovery from injury that just happened to coincide with Kiev regaining possession. Aliyev was down for almost a minute, twitching in anguish and apparently just waiting for the last rites before slipping off this mortal coil. What a difference a counter-attack makes. When the hapless midfielder shoved the referee in injury-time, he received his comeuppance in the form of a second booking. The Arsenal fans enjoyed that more than they enjoyed Bendtner's goal.

This was not a night that the officials will remember fondly. The confusion that led to Arsenal's goal (see sidebar) was utterly avoidable and questions will be raised over the wisdom of appointing a refereeing team from Luxembourg, where the amount of tense, vitally important football matches can't be particularly high. It's one for UEFA to consider, though I understand that they're backed right up with more important things like counting money and refusing to effectively tackle racism.

If Fabregas' appointment as captain is an expression of confidence in the future of the football team, then Jack Wilshere is the evidence that backs it up. The teenage sensation was only on the pitch for 14 minutes, but he electrified the cold night air with his pace. He zig-zagged across the Kiev defence, cutting from flank to flank, giving tired legs a problem that they couldn't keep up with. Arsene Wenger rarely smiled in the brief press conference that followed the game, but his face lit up when Wilshere's name was mentioned.

Arsenal need just a draw in Portugal to top the group and spare themselves a premature clash with one of Europe's big guns. The Premier League may be an unlikely target now, but there's enough quality here for another tilt at the European Cup. If the club can ever put L'Affair de Gallas behind them and regain the confidence that lifted them to such heights last season, then Fabregas could still lift as many trophies as his predecessor Adams. There's a long way to go just yet though.

GALLAS - Arsene Wenger was quick to jump to the defence of his former captain William Gallas after a mixed night for the French defender.

"I believe Gallas' focus was great," he said afterwards. "You could see he was completely committed in the game."

It was a game that could have gone either way for Gallas. He was left sprawled on the floor in the first ten minutes after a collision with Carlos Vela, but it was interesting to note that Cesc Fabregas was the first to step over and check on his fitness. Then, before half-time, he slipped to allow Ismael Bangoura the chance to smash the ball against the post. He even managed to get in the way of a shot on goal in the second half, inadvertently clearing a Robin van Persie shot off the line.

Defensively though, he was excellent. His clinical dispossession of Olexandr Aliyev brought emphatic applause and he was unfortunate to slip offside as he flicked the ball past Stanislav Bogush in the first half. The home crowd were generous in their support. There were no boos, no catcalls and no jeers from the sidelines, just the loud acknowledgment of his efforts. The Arsenal fans had made no secret of their discomfort with Gallas the captain, but it seems that they have no problem with Gallas the player.


Dynamo Kiev had so many complaints with Nicklas Bendtner's late goal that they didn't know where to start with referee Alain Hamer. There were accusations of handball as the Danish striker brought Cesc Fabregas' pass under control, but it seemed unlikely. From my vantage point on the halfway line, it was impossible to tell for sure, but the television replays suggested that the ball was chested down.

Far more serious was the confusion that led to the initial pass.. With Johan Djourou off the field and receiving attention, Kiev's players seemed to be under the impression that the game was going to continue with a dropball, but Arsenal didn't agree. As the Ukrainians decided who would contest the restart, the ball was passed quickly to Fabregas who hit a magnificent first time pass to Bendtner. If it wasn't a drop-ball then surely it was a free-kick and if that was the case then it should have been re-taken because Fabregas passed the ball while it was still moving.

At the very best it was unsporting behaviour from Arsenal, but at the worst it was a critical lapse in control from Hamer. Kiev manager Yuri Semin said afterwards that his side lacked Arsenal's 'experience'. Doublespeak for Arsenal's 'cunning'? Either way, the referee should have prevented the confusion.


BRAINS OF THE OPERATION - Yuri Semin's tactics were absolutely spot on and his players followed them almost perfectly. Where Fenerbahce's offside trap was sprung repeatedly by Arsenal, Kiev's was almost unbreakable. Almost, being the operative word. Even so, Kiev deserved something from this match.

DIVER - Olexandr Aliyev's instant recovery from injury was hilarious to watch, but it would have been no laughing matter. UEFA have a man whose job it is to wrap appropriately coloured tape around the goalposts in the exact place where the woodwork obscures advertising hoardings on television. Is it too much to ask that they hire someone to give retrospective punishment to players who cheat?

SPEEDY - Jack Wilshere has got everything. Pace, touch, control and a natural ability to know when to pass and when to run. If Arsenal can keep his feet on the ground and prevent a Gascoigne-like implosion then this boy is going to be some player. He makes you feel that something is going to happen every time he touches the ball.

PUNTERS RANT - Anyone who had backed Kiev to sneak a win against a wobbly Arsenal side would have been devastated with Manuel Almunia's excellent one-on-one save in the second half. Artem Milevskiy was denied, as were any vultures looking to profit from the Gunners' misery.

MAN OF THE MATCH - I don't like him in the centre of midfield, but on the left hand side, with Alexandre Song sweeping up behind him, Denilson enjoyed one of his best games of the season. With a little more room and a lot less responsibility, the Brazilian was able to express himself and he was a constant danger to Kiev.


Crowd: 59,374
Yellow cards: Van Persie, Bendtner (Arsenal) Milevskiy, Asatiani, Aliyev (Kiev)
Red cards: Aliyev (Kiev)
Manuel Almunia 7, Cesc Fabregas 7, William Gallas 7, Robin van Persie, 6, Carlos Vela 6 (Jack Wilshere 7, 76th), Denilson 8, Aaron Ramsey 7 (Nicklas Bendtner 7, 69th), Alexandre Song 7, Mikael Silvestre 7, Johan Djourou 7, Gael Clichy 7
Dynamo Kiev:
Stanislav Bogush 7, Betao 7, Tiberiu Ghioane 7, Ognen Vukojevic 6, Olexandr Aliyev 7, Ismael Bangoura 6, Roman Eremenko 7, Pape Diakhate 7, Artem Milevskiy 7, Badr El Kaddouri 6, Malkhaz Asatiani 6