Arsenal made hard work of defending the Emirates Cup yesterday, hanging on to beat Celtic 3-2 after leading 3-0. Now, though, comes an even more difficult task – winning the club's first piece of serious silverware for five seasons.
As if finishing ahead of Chelsea, Manchester United and the rest in the Premier League is not enough of a challenge, Arsène Wenger, the manager, also faces the unwanted complication of the Cesc Fabregas situation.
The Arsenal captain returns on Thursday from a four-week post-World Cup break, bringing with him the baggage that Wenger agreed on Saturday was an unwelcome distraction to everyone at the club. Although Barcelona have given up their pursuit of Fabregas through the official channels, the Catalan press and the Blaugrana players continue to act as though the arrival of Fabregas at the Nou Camp is simply a matter of "when" rather than "if."
One school of thought is that Fabregas should be allowed to leave, thereby removing all further distractions, and giving Wenger money to spend. Wenger, however, would probably then opt to give Alexandre Song, Denilson and Abou Diaby – all missing yesterday – further chances to show what they can do. Those three will now be looking over their shoulders at Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong, both 18, who have excelled in pre-season and did well again for 70 minutes yesterday.
Wenger admitted that the precocity of the two teenagers had altered his thinking about the make-up of his midfield this season. "We were considering maybe going on the market for a midfield player, which we will not do now," he said. "Frimpong is a bit less a dribbler, but he's a fighter and a winner. He can choose between England and Ghana, so I would have no hesitation and invite him to play for England."
Wilshere has already been mentioned by the national manager, Fabio Capello, as a future England player but Wenger urged caution. "Let's not make them stars before they are stars," he said. "But in 2012 he will be 20. Theo Walcott went to the World Cup at 17 and it didn't kill him."
Arsenal began briskly. Carlos Vela slid home Walcott's cross after four minutes and Lukasz Zaluska then dived over Bacary Sagna's left-foot shot after 44 minutes. Walcott provided his second assist six minutes after the interval, Samir Nasri converting his short pass from 15 yards.
Celtic's embarrassment appeared complete when Georgios Samaras hit a penalty kick high and wide, but it seemed to inspire them, and Daryl Murphy struck from close range. Ki Sung-yeung scored a second eight minutes from time. "For 70 minutes we played well then collapsed a bit, and you could see that everybody has not got 90 minutes in their legs, but I have seen what I wanted to see," Wenger said.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Almunia; Sagna (E Eboué 62), Djourou, Vermaelen (L Koscielny 73), Clichy (Gibbs 62); Frimpong, Wilshere; Walcott, Rosicky (Nasri, 46), Vela (Arshavin 62); Emmanuel-Thomas (Chamakh, 46). Substitutes not used Mannone (gk), Randall, Nordtveit, Hoyte, Yennaris.
Celtic (4-3-3): Zaluska (Cervi, 46); Hinkel (Samaras, 61), Rogne, Hooiveld, Mulgrew (Twardzik, 66); Maloney, Juarez, Crosas (Du-Ri, 61); Ki, Murphy Hooper, 86) Rasmussen (Fortune 61). Substitutes not used Hooper.
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