Arsenal receive Russian warning of revolution

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Arsenal have had enough problems with the Russian influence on the Premiership since Roman Abramovich's arrival at Chelsea but they, and other western clubs, will have to get increasingly used to dealing with the Russian presence in the European arena.

Notwithstanding Thierry Henry's wrongly disallowed equaliser, the quality of CSKA Moscow's football in their 1-0 victory over Arsenal stood out on Tuesday night. Their trio of Brazilians - the goalscorer Daniel Carvalho, Vagner Love and Dudu - caught the eye but some of the native players were just as impressive. In particular, the performances of the sweeper Sergei Ignashevich and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev suggested that Guus Hiddink's national team could add to Steve McClaren's woes when they meet England next year.

The élite teams in Russian football have been on the rise in recent years despite disappointing crowds, corruption and a lack of depth in the game's infrastructure. All these deficiencies are overridden for teams like CSKA by the influx of cash from Russia's new energy billionaires.

"A Russian team could win the Champions' League in the next decade," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "It is a football country, they have as much money as anywhere else and are producing good teams."

"It's a hard place to come," added Kolo Touré. "They play good football at a high tempo, you can see why they won the Uefa Cup. They are a good team."

Unusually, CSKA have also managed to hold their squad together; much of the team who beat Arsenal were in the side that won the Uefa Cup last year. That helps but the real test of their quality will come, should they make it, in the knock-out stages. Traditionally, teams from Russia and Ukraine have struggled after Christmas because winter is their close season.

Another challenge is how they perform on the road. The many wealthy Russian émigrés and exiles in London will be able to see at first hand CSKA's capabilities at the Emirates stadium on 1 November. Arsenal will hope they are not too impressed. If Arsenal fail to win then, they will be under pressure from Porto, whose defeat of Hamburg on Tuesday reduced Group G to a three-way contest. However, Henry said: "We still have two games at home and, if we win them, then we will go through."

Arsenal return to domestic action at Reading on Sunday. "It will be tough but to win the Premiership you need to win games like this," Touré said. In recent years Arsenal have been outmuscled by such opponents but the Ivorian insisted: "We have the character and the spirit to grind out a result."

In Arsenal's favour, given the squad would not have been back in their beds until at least 4am yesterday, is the five-day gap between the matches. Had the fixtures been on Wednesday and Saturday, preparation time would have been reduced to 72 hours.