Arsenal host Celtic on Wednesday with the group stages of the Champions' League at stake for both teams. Unfortunately for the men from Glasgow, they need three goals to get through. If that is not a big enough task, they will need to ensure the Gunners – and William Gallas in particular – lose their lucky tag, and fast.
Gallas scored a goal off his back against Celtic on Tuesday but just after the interval here, his good fortune reached an entirely new level.
With Portsmouth, through Younes Kaboul, having halved the deficit before the break, giving the visitors hope of a first point of the season, along came the match's turning point. John Utaka ran on to a long overhead ball with Gallas in close pursuit that ended with the Nigerian winger being fouled about 20 yards out. As the only player covering, Gallas should have been sent off but instead the referee, Steve Bennett, decided there was no foul, or the contact was accidental, or that Utaka had dived.
Cue the inevitable. Three minutes later Andrey Arshavin curled in a free-kick, leading to ricochets off Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen that ended up with the ball striking – you guessed it – Gallas. It hit him in his face and crept in at the post off his knee. Nevertheless, he celebrated wildly – like a man reprieved, which indeed he was.
Paul Hart, the Portsmouth manager, was understandably aggrieved. He said: "It was a clear foul. I don't like to see people sent off but it was a sending-off. Then he scored the third goal and that's cruel." It was a near replica of the incident in September 1993 involving Ronald Koeman in a World Cup qualifier between England and Holland in Rotterdam. The only consolation for Hart is that, unlike Graham Taylor, he should keep his job.
Arsène Wenger, who owned up recently to selective myopia over controversial incidents, chose to open up his eyes a little on this occasion. He said: "It looked to me as if Gallas had pulled him and you fear the decision from outside. You never know who pulls down first. You need slow motion to see who pulls first."
Those three minutes swung a match that was turning in Portsmouth's direction. Wenger's side had swept to their two-goal lead with ease, Abou Diaby rounding off fine work by Eduardo for the first and scoring from a counter-attack, after Emmanuel Eboué's pass, for the second, which Portsmouth claimed was offside.
After that it turned into a personal contest between Van Persie and David James, that the goalkeeper just about won. To add to an intriguing afternoon, James hobbled off injured with Hart – and England coach Fabio Capello – hoping he just has bone bruising.
On a brighter note a club spokesman said the proposed takeover by the Peter Storrie consortium should be resolved by the middle of next week.
Kaboul's header, from Nadir Belhadj's cross had given the visitors genuine belief, which only improved at the interval as Cesc Fabregas was replaced by Aaron Ramsey due to a hamstring injury which will probably force him out of the Celtic game. The jitters suddenly appeared and a minute after the Utaka incident, Frederic Piquionne should have beaten Almunia from close range at his near post.
Yet instead of 2-1, with Arsenal a diminished force with 10 men, it was 3-1 that became 4-1, as Van Persie fed Ramsey for his first League goal for the club, well taken with his right foot.
This has been a good first week of the season, Wenger said, citing the 10 League goals in two games and being set fair for the Champions League. As for the title, he was less bullish: "After 10 games you will see a trend," he said. "Two games is too quick." But Arsenal's luck is in right now.Reuse content