Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Arsenal vs. Slavia Prague: Match Review

Match Preview

Arsenal gave manager Arsene Wenger a late birthday gift of seven goals, tying the club's record for biggest victory in the Champions League. Theo Walcott's first two goals in Europe for Arsenal, as well as braces from Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb and a goal from substitute Nicklas Bendtner lead Arsenal to a 7-0 victory over Czech league leaders Slavia Prague.

The Gunners will go into next Sunday's game at Anfield with lots of confidence following a run of 12 straight victories which sees the club at the top of Champions League Group H and the Premier League.

Arsene Wenger started with nearly the same lineup as he had in the 2-0 win over Bolton on Saturday, the only change being Theo Walcott in place of Eduardo da Silva. I was surprised to see Emmanuel Eboue starting over Tomas Rosicky after he failed to have much impact on Saturday, and he had problems again today.

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Gael Clichy; Emmanuel Eboue, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb; Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott

Slavia Prague: Martin Vaniak; David Hubacek, David Kalivoda, Matej Krajcik, Daniel Pudil, Marek Suchy; Michal Svec, Mikael Tavares; Milan Ivana, Zdenek Senkerik, Stanislav Vlcek

Arsenal once again rushed out of the gates, with Cesc Fabregas scoring his first goal in the fifth minute. A pass from Alex Hleb met the Spaniard in the box, and the 20 year-old beautifully curled a shot around Martin Vaniak from a tough angle.

Nineteen minutes later Alex Hleb got his first goal of the night, after a scuffed shot from the Belorussian midfielder took a wicked deflection past Vaniak in what could have been considered an own goal from David Hubacek.

Emmanuel Adebayor then missed his first of the night, as the Togolese international had a header brilliantly saved by the feet of Vaniak. The African striker, who also struggled to find the back of the net against Bolton, could have scored a hat-trick of headers, but somehow managed not to score on any occasion.

Vaniak, who had just made a smart save from Adebayor, was involved for the wrong reasons in the 41st minute, botching a clearance and gifting Theo Walcott a possession just outside the penalty box. The young striker still had a lot to do, but managed to get past tackles from Vaniak and two Slavia defenders to score his first European goal in an Arsenal shirt.

Arsenal came into the second half confidently after their impressive start to the match, and it wasn't long before Alex Hleb grabbed his second of the day. The tricky Belorussian latched onto a pass from Fabregas just outside the box, faked a shot with his left, and then slotted past Vaniak with his right for his second goal of the night.

Hleb added to his impressive performance by getting a second assist by putting Theo Walcott through. The young England forward then danced past two challenges before prodding the ball past the Slavia keeper and in off the far post.

Arsenal's next goal was wonderfully worked, with Fabregas getting the final touch past Vaniak. Alex Hleb once again masterminded the move, passing the ball to Emmanuel Adebayor, who found Theo Walcott in the box. The 18 year-old made a fabulous first-touch pass to Cesc Fabregas who calmly finished for his second goal.

With the game in Arsenal's hands, Arsene Wenger made a triple substitution, with Rosicky, Gilberto, and Bendtner coming on for Hleb, Flamini, and Adebayor. Personally, I would have wanted to see Emmanuel Eboue taken out, as he had been invisible for nearly the entire second half.

Slavia Prague then had their first real chance of the game, finally testing Manuel Almunia. The Spanish keeper, who was once again started over Jens Lehmann, made to superb saves to keep Arsenal's clean sheet.

Slavia couldn't keep up the pressure for long, and Theo Walcott nearly got a hat-trick, only for Vaniak to make an amazing reflex save to keep out the promising young forward. Arsenal's seventh nearly came through Tomas Rosicky just after Vaniak's save. The Czech captain barely failed to score, his shot deflecting out of bounds off of Vaniak's goalpost.

The night was not over yet though, as Arsenal's seventh goal finally came in the final few minutes of regular time. Nicklas Bendtner refused to give up on a backheel from Eboue, and he managed to tap in his first European goal for Arsenal.

A fabulous seven-goal win for Arsenal will be a great boost ahead of Sunday's Premiership fixture against Liverpool. Theo Walcott finally began to show the kind of talent that made Sven Goran Eriksson choose him for England's world cup squad, Alex Hleb had two key contributions two goals and scored two himself, Nicklas Bendtner scored his first goal in Europe, and Cesc Fabregas got a brace. Arsenal's potential is finally turning into pure talent, and we can really be title contenders this year if we can continue to work this well together.