Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sevilla vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Arsenal stuttered to their first defeat since April as a solid Sevilla side outplayed the Gunners to register a 3-1 win. This means that Sevilla are likely to top Champions League Group H after the final matchday. Arsenal will therefore have to face much tougher competition in the first knockout stage.

The news got worse too, as yet another Arsenal midfielder limped off the pitch soon after half time. Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal's undisputed best player so far this campaign, has been added to an injury list which already include midfielders Alex Hleb, Abou Diaby, and Mathieu Flamini.

Sevilla: Andres Palop; Dani Alves, Ivica Dragutinovic, Federico Fazio, Jose Angel Rincon; Adriano Correia, Jesus Navas, Seydou Keita, Christian Poulsen; Freddi Kanoute, Luis Fabiano

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Justin Hoyte, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Toure, Armand Traore; Emmanuel Eboue, Cesc Fabregas, Neves Denilson, Gilberto Silva, Eduardo da Silva; Nicklas Bendtner

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger took a big risk in resting many of his team's big names, and the gamble did not pay off. The defense looked weak from the start (with only Kolo Toure a regular member of the starting XI) and a lone Nicklas Bendtner up front was quite a risk, even with Eduardo prowling the left wing.

Nonetheless, Arsenal fans were looking forwards to another good show of the Gunners' strength in youth, and they thought they had it when Eduardo scored after only 11 minutes.

A Nicklas Bendtner cross met Eduardo in the penalty box, and the Croatian chested the ball down as Andres Palop rushed out of his goal. The Arsenal striker looked to have lost his chance by taking the ball too wide, but slotted home neatly from a very difficult angle, giving the away side the lead.

The bright lead didn't last too long, though, and Sevilla equalized in the 24th minute.

Philippe Senderos, who was in the squad in place of Arsenal's rested captain William Gallas, botched a clearance which fell to Jesus Navas. The Sevilla midfielder's cross was acrobatically cleared by Gilberto, but fell to Seydou Keita, who struck magnificently into the roof of Almunia's net as the keeper hopelessly tried to reach the ball.

The goal left Arsenal stunned, and as Sevilla started to gain more possession the Londoners conceded a second.

The on-form Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano neatly placed a glancing header into the corner of Almunia's net after a neat cross from countryman Dani Alves.

At 2-1 up, the Sevillistas were looking for revenge after their 3-0 loss at the Emirates earlier this season, but it was Arsenal who nearly drew level.

Bendtner laid a ball back to Eduardo, but his shot was deflected over the bar with goalkeeper Palop already out of the picture.

It was Sevilla's chance next, as Freddy Kanoute latched on to the rebound after a Fabiano shot was saved by Almunia. Fortunately for the Gunners the former Tottenham man hit his shot wide, letting Arsene Wenger's side go into halftime down 2-1.

Wenger must have given quite a half-time speech as a rejuvenated Arsenal side once again started brightly in the second half.

In the 50th minute Emmanuel Eboue looked to have won a penalty after a tough tackle from Christian Poulsen in the 18 yard box, but the referee waved play on.

It went downhill from there, as and injured Cesc Fabregas hobbled off the field five minutes later, replaced by Tomas Rosicky.

The referee gave Arsenal something back after a second Senderos error led to what may have been a handball in the box. The official pointed to the penalty spot only to reverse his decision seconds later in a moment of confusion which ended in a drop ball.

Sevilla couldn't be denied a penalty forever though, and they finally won one when Kolo Toure and substitute Bacary Sagna took Kanoute down in the box.

The Mali striker took sent the Arsenal keeper the wrong way, putting the match out of Arsenal's reach in the 89th minute.

It meant an end to Arsenal's club record unbeaten streak.

It couldn't be complained about though, as, for the first time this season, Arsenal were clearly outplayed.