There are, in football, dives that look like fouls and fouls that look like dives, and then there are the blatant, disgraceful, fling-yourself-to-the-ground-and-con-the-referee dives. It was the latter category into which Eduardo da Silva fell – or rather dived – last night.
There was breathtaking duplicity in the way in which the Arsenal striker threw himself to the ground as he went past Artur Boruc in the 25th minute, and sheer front in the way in which he picked himself up and dispatched the penalty. Arsène Wenger protested that it was not a penalty and that it was not a dive; but if it was not a dive then what the hell was it?
Watching in the stands, Sir Alex Ferguson might have afforded himself a smile that, for last night at least, Arsenal's halo was slipping. Eduardo declined the opportunity to speak afterwards to explain his actions but then, short of a full apology, what could he say? He is a richly-talented footballer but last night all that was overshadowed by a piece of play-acting that was, quite frankly, indefensible.
On 26 minutes, Eduardo was played into the left channel of the area and skipped away from Gary Caldwell. His touch took him into a race with Boruc for the ball and although Eduardo got there first there was no contact between striker and goalkeeper. Eduardo went to ground and by the time he had climbed to his feet the Spanish referee Manuel Gonzalez was pointing to the spot and Boruc was reaching for the Arsenal striker's throat.
The night's football was tarnished already. Eduardo sent Boruc the wrong way from the spot and Arsenal embarked on a stroll into qualification for the Champions League group stages and today's draw in Monaco. Cheating like this – and, make no bones about it, Eduardo is a cheat – has no place in English football but it seemed doubly cruel coming against a team Arsenal were going to beat easily anyway.
Arsenal would have won this tie without or without the penalty. Their football was sumptuous at times and against poor old Celtic from the impoverished Scottish Premier League the gulf in class would have told eventually. In the history of bad Arsenal dives, Eduardo's was up there with Robert Pires' amateur dramatics against Portsmouth in 2003.
Because of the awful injury Eduardo sustained in that game against Birmingham City in February 2008 he enjoys the sympathy of most right-thinking football fans, and deservedly so. But last night, as he grinned into the pitch-side camera after his penalty, that sympathy was wearing rather thin. Arsenal were so embarrassed they did not replay the incident on their big screens at half-time.
Celtic were duly dispatched with further goals from Emmanuel Eboué and the substitute Andrei Arshavin and they were too good for the Scottish side, who scored an excellent late goal from Massimo Donati. But there may be fears for the fitness of Arsenal's midfielders come Saturday's game against Manchester United.
Aaron Ramsey came on as a second-half substitute and subsequently had to come off after a hefty challenge from Scott Brown. Denilson also picked up an injury from a challenge with the Scottish midfielder. With Cesc Fabregas out they can scarcely afford to lose two more midfielders.
If only Celtic could have scored an early goal they might just have made a game of it. That was the plan from Tony Mowbray, who picked a bold as brass 4-4-2 formation to try to attack Arsenal. Not even Manchester United play with two strikers at the Emirates, as Ferguson would have observed from his seat in the stand. The game at Old Trafford on Saturday evening will be a major test for his team and Arsenal gave him a demonstration of the versatility of their new 4-3-3 formation.
Abou Diaby was promoted to the left side of the front three and Arsenal moved the ball around at a phenomenal pace. It was not so much a case of whether Celtic could score but whether they could get out of their own half. Seven minutes in and Gaël Clichy and Diaby combined to slice open Celtic. Nicklas Bendtner's shot was saved and Eduardo missed the rebound.
There is something bewitching about watching Arsenal in this form, at least there was until Eduardo spoiled it all. Having scored the penalty that he won so unfairly, Eduardo could be seen complaining to the referee that Boruc had seized him by the throat in the aftermath. You could hardly blame the goalkeeper.
Eboué scored Arsenal's second goal on 54 minutes, beating Boruc from close range. The Arsenal man celebrated by lifting up his t-shirt to display a message. The angle made it hard to read but it looked like "Thanks be to God". On this occasion, however, God could not prevent Eboué from getting a booking.
Celtic did then score a goal of their own but Aiden McGeady was offside when he tapped the ball in. Arsenal, however, were leagues ahead of them and they go into today's draw in the kind of form that will make them confident against any European opponent.
With 15 minutes to go Jack Wilshere and Arshavin swapped passes beautifully and the Russian dispatched the third goal. This was painfully simple for Arsenal and the nerves of their opponents frayed in the latter stages with the combative Brown going nose-to-nose with Denilson after a late challenge by Wilshere.
Arsenal were down to 10 men by the end of the game when Ramsey failed to run off the injury from Brown's tackle. Donati scored a great volley with the last kick. Wenger was already haranguing the fourth official about his players' treatment. Whatever injustice he might have felt it paled in comparison to the wrong dealt Celtic by Eduardo.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy; Eboué (Wilshere, 72), Song, Denilson; Bendtner, Eduardo (Arshavin, 72), Diaby (Ramsey, 61). Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Van Persie, Silvestre, Traoré.
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell (O'Dea, h-t), Loovens, Fox; McGeady, Brown, Donati, Maloney (Flood, 61); Fortune, McDonald. Substitutes not used: Zaluska (gk), Naylor, Samaras, McCourt, Killen.
Referee: M Gonzalez (Spain).