Arsène Wenger’s young guns on the verge of mak­ing Euro­pean pipe dream a re­al­ity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOOD WEEKEND -

THERE was much talk around the Emi­rates be­fore kick-off on Wed­nes­day night that this might be the sea­son for Arse­nal in Europe.

At one point, late in this Cham­pi­ons League tie, Arse­nal al­most achieved what for Arsène Wenger has long ap­peared to be the ul­ti­mate in foot­balling pos­si­bil­ity: af­ter a scin­til­lat­ing pass­ing move, they al­most walked the ball into the net.

Sub­sti­tute Aaron Ram­sey was foiled only by a des­per­ate scram­ble by the AZ goal­keeper Ser­gio Romero from ap­ply­ing the fin­ish­ing touch.

It was that sort of night at the Emi­rates. The kind of oc­ca­sion which sug­gested that the talk in the pubs of the Hol­loway Road be­fore kick-off, that this might be the sea­son for Arse­nal in Europe, was not so in­tem­per­ate af­ter all.

In­deed, af­ter 73 min­utes, hav­ing seen Samir Nasri, Abou Di­aby and Cesc Fabre­gas (twice) score de­light­ful goals, Arse­nal re­ally did look like Euro­pean cham­pi­ons in wait­ing, full of ir­re­sistible pass­ing and cor­us­cat­ing move­ment.

But Arse­nal will surely face tougher op­po­si­tion in the Cham­pi­ons League than that of­fered by a Dutch team who seem­ingly had an aes­thetic dis­taste for the tackle.

This was pre­cisely the kind of game that Wenger loves.

No four-square Bolton-es­que de­fend­ers rough­ing up his for­wards, no Dar­ren Fletcher nig­gling his mid­field, just the op­por­tu­nity for his play­ers to be end­lessly ex­pres­sive.

The front four of Nasri, Fabre­gas, An­drei Ar­shavin and Robin van Per­sie could hardly be­lieve their luck as they were given the chance to exhibit their full reper­toire of flicks and runs.

But it was not his glit­ter­ing quar­tet that Wenger had been talk­ing up be­fore kick-off. He was keen to tell every­one what a prospect he had play­ing at left-back.

He went so far as to say Eng­land man­ager Fabio Capello should be de­lighted that an in­jury to Gaël Clichy had opened up the chance for an ex­tended run for Kieran Gibbs. It is fair to say Eng­land’s well­be­ing has not al­ways been the Arse­nal man­ager’s pri­or­ity.

But such is the en­fee­bled condi- tion of English rep­re­sen­ta­tion at Arse­nal, the very fact Gibbs has made his way through the multi­na­tional ranks meant that his ap­pear- ance on the team-sheet here was be­ing talked about as a presage to him se­cur­ing a berth on the plane to South Africa.

It is not the most pre­pos­ter­ous idea.

Not when the com­pe­ti­tion to be Ashley Cole’s un­der­study mainly con­sists of Wayne Bridge. As it hap­pens, the 20 year-old from Lam­beth never looked out of place on the left of Arse­nal’s de­fence.

Wenger says he re­minds him of the young Cole. He has a point. Ath­letic, quick, brought up to value pos­ses­sion, he would have thrilled Capello.

Par­tic­u­larly in the 70th minute, when he slipped across the face of the AZ area and slammed in a shot which only just missed. Plus – and this will have pleased the Ital­ian even more – in one de­light­ful slid­ing tackle on AZ’s Moussa Dem­bele – he demon­strated he knows how to de­fend.

But this was not a match in which a left-back was the prin­ci­pal at­trac­tion. This was a game in which Wenger’s in­sis­tence on the pri­macy of the pass was given am­ple ex­po­sure.

At times Van Per­sie, Fabre­gas and Ar­shavin were so supremely con­fi­dent in their move­ment and an­tic­i­pa­tion, the noise com­ing from the Emi­rates stands was close to purring.

So easy was it for Wenger he re­moved all three from the fray with 10 min­utes left, con­serv­ing their wiles for the chal­lenges ahead. He will need them fresh as it can only get harder.

His Arse­nal might even face an op­po­si­tion.

But for now the pipe dream spin­ning round the Emi­rates looks al­most plau­si­ble. – The Tele­graph


WENGER BOYS: Arse­nal’s Samir Nasri, cen­tre, cel­e­brates his goal against AZ Alk­maar with Robin Van Per­sie, left, and Em­manuel Eboue dur­ing their Uefa Cham­pi­ons League soc­cer match while right, Arsene Wenger in­structs his team with his usual calm aplomb.

Arsene Wenger

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