After the stalemates, the deluge. On Tuesday Manchester United drew a blank and Spurs threw away a two-goal lead, but last night the Premier League's assault on Europe began in earnest as Arsenal and Chelsea scored 10 goals between them.
Arsenal put six past Braga at the Emirates without reply and Chelsea struck four away to the Slovakian champions MSK Zilina, winning 4-1. For the Gunners Cesc Fabregas and Carlos Vela, the latter a substitute, scored twice, Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh once, but arguably the most encouraging aspect was the performance of 18-year-old Englishman Jack Wilshere, who played the full 90 minutes.
English youth was in evidence for Chelsea too with 17-year-old substitute Josh McEachran becoming the youngest player to compete in the Champions League, and the first to have been born since the competition's birth in November 1992. Chelsea were three up in less than half-an-hour in Slovakia, Nicolas Anelka scoring twice and Michael Essien once. Daniel Sturridge added a fourth before the Slovakian side pulled a goal back. Anelka celebrated with a handcuffs gesture, a protest at his 18-game ban by the French Football Federation over his behaviour at the World Cup. Anelka said: "It's a message to the FFF. The other players will understand what I mean."
Manager Carlo Ancelotti had no complaint with his striker. "Anelka was the key," he said. "He played a fantastic game. He created space, he had opportunities. He made the first goal and scored two. He can play the position in front, sometimes we use him more wide, sometimes he plays in the middle but he shows the same skills if he plays wide."
Ancelotti, who said he hoped Frank Lampard would be fit to play Blackpool on Saturday after his hernia operation, added: "We started very well in the first half, we knew the opposition would attack so we used the speed of our strikers on the counter-attack. It was a very important win for us."
Arsène Wenger was equally delighted, not just because of the score, but because of the manner of Arsenal's performance. "We played the game we wanted to play at high pace with top technical quality, good concentration and a good collective spirit. We had good performances all over the pitch, everybody played well.
"It is important we keep our feet on the ground, show humility and work hard, but I am convinced we can win trophies this season. Why? Look at the chances we create. This team knocked Seville out."
The only discordant note was struck by Fabregas who criticised his team-mates for easing up in the closing stages, and himself for not scoring more. "I think I had a lot of opportunities and I had a one-on-one. I'm very disappointed," he said. "I am a professional and I wanted a hat-trick.
"It was a good performance but in the last 10-15 minutes we should have stepped up. We had good discipline until then but we will have games where you can't relax at any moment." And this was before he was asked the inevitable question about Barcelona, and was he now comfortable at Arsenal? "I have always felt comfortable here," he responded with a hint of tetchiness.Reuse content