Caldwell's gaffe helps Arsenal confirm the difference in class

Celtic 0 Arsenal

Sam Wallace
Wednesday 19 August 2009 00:00

The competing attractions playing in Glasgow last night were U2 and Arsenal but if you had been forced to choose one then it would have to be Arsène Wenger's men in their sparkling early-season form. Playing like this they are, as someone once said, even better than the real thing.

Resolute when they needed to be, and beautiful passers of the ball too, Arsenal were the beneficiaries of two very fortunate goals from William Gallas and the Celtic captain Gary Caldwell. But only one team ever looked like they were going to win this game and their progress into the group stages of the Champions League should be serene indeed come the second leg at the Emirates on Wednesday.

New characters are emerging in this freshly-emboldened Arsenal team such as Alex Song and Thomas Vermaelen, both of whom were excellent last night, while the more experienced campaigners such as Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were impressive, too. The first English team to win at Celtic's home ground in 26 years, Arsenal hushed this wonderful stadium until finally the locals started to stream out before the end.

Trouble in Paradise. "You should have gone to see U2" was the chant from the away end that accompanied Celtic's fans who trudged out before the final whistle. But for all Arsenal's finesse it would be wrong for the visitors to lord it over Scottish football. Celtic were the victims of a wealthier club, one that can afford better, slicker players as well as a manager any team in Europe would covet.

The Battle of Britain is a hackneyed phrase to describe the meeting of English and Scottish clubs and in some senses the historical parallel felt accurate: plucky resistance against overwhelming odds. This time, however, the underdogs did not have a prayer and Celtic's muscular defiance in the first half – as well as some bad fouls after the break – was not enough to keep Arsenal at bay.

The physical resilience of Arsenal teams in the recent past has been an issue and last night Wenger said that he was pleased with the way his team had hung in there. "There were some bad fouls and the referee took some time to intervene," he said. "We got some harsh treatment. I am very happy with the commitment of my team despite the physical approach of some Celtic players. I can understand why they did it but we responded well."

The 4-3-3 formation that Wenger has adopted this season, borne of his admiration for the way in which Barcelona conquered Europe last season, is a risky strategy but so far, so good. Song, Denilson and Cesc Fabregas look formidable in the centre and Celtic struggled to break out of their half as the game progressed.

"I concede we were lucky with the goals," Wenger said, "but I believe we forced them to make one or two mistakes on the ball." That was putting it mildly, especially in the case of Caldwell who gave away the free-kick from which Arsenal scored their deflected first before he scored the second himself. Having been sent off for Scotland in the World Cup qualifier against Norway he must have thought life could not get any worse.

There were some reasonable performances from Celtic, especially Aiden McGeady in the first half who was at the head of a counter-attack that required a drastic saving tackle from Vermaelen. But Celtic were determined to pass the ball through their midfield and against a team as incisive as Arsenal that was always going to be a doomed, albeit admirable, approach.

The team may struggle to reach the achievements immortalised in the Lisbon banners that hang around the stadium but the fans at Celtic Park always make a night of it. There can be no other stadium in Europe where the noise and excitement goes up when the naff Uefa Champions League anthem is played. The Arsenal fans who grumble to their seats one minute before kick off at the Emirates could learn a lesson.

In fact, last night Arsenal's fans showed unprecedented levels of enthusiasm for the verbal jousting that usually passes them by at the Emirates. They are dreaming of another season of possibilities and with Portsmouth the first visitors to north London on Saturday it does not take a great leap of imagination to see them winning again.

Unchanged from their 6-1 win over Everton at Goodison Park, Arsenal's first goal came just a couple of minutes before half-time, just after Celtic's Scott Brown hit a shot with the outside of his right foot that came through a group of players and forced a decent save out of Manuel Almunia.

This one was definitely not from the training ground. Van Persie backheeled the ball to Fabregas who hit a shot which struck Gallas on the back as he tried to get out of the way. Artur Boruc was completely beaten by the deflection. It was exactly the slice of luck that Celtic needed if they were to get anything from this game, the problem being that they, unlike Arsenal, did not deserve it.

In the stands was Harry Redknapp, there to watch Brown, the Scotland midfielder. The Tottenham manager has made little secret of his interest in bringing him to White Hart Lane. It is hard to see exactly what improvement Brown would add to Spurs: he is not as tough as Wilson Palacios or as finessed as Tom Huddlestone.

Denying Arsenal possession can be a really tricky business and even when Celtic achieved that they were so rarely in a position to do damage to their opponents. Marc-Antoine Fortuné, bought by Tony Mowbray from West Bromwich Albion, offered a bit more impact, hitting a cross on 66 minutes that Gallas did well to cut out.

It was a much more subdued Celtic Park as Arsenal took control of the game. There were bad tackles, too – Daniel Fox, Glenn Loovens and Landry N'Guemo were all booked for challenges on Fabregas. And then there were the mistakes, and they cost Celtic most dearly

Caldwell lunged at Gael Clichy's cross on 71 minutes and turned it past his own goalkeeper. Another groan from the home fans but you got the feeling that if Caldwell had not scored Arsenal's second they would probably have done it themselves anyway.

Celtic (4-4-1-1): Boruc (Player rating: 5/10); Hinkel (5), Loovens (4), Caldwell (2), Fox (3); Brown (5), N'Guemo (5) (McCourt (5), 76), Donati (4) (McDonald (4), 56), Maloney (5); McGeady (5); Samaras (5) (Fortuné (6), 56). Substitutes not used: Zaluska (gk), Naylor, Flood, O'Dea.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia (6); Sagna (6), Gallas (7), Vermaelen (8), Clichy (6); Fabregas (6), Song (8), Denilson (7); Bendtner (6), Van Persie (7), Arshavin (6) (Diaby (6), 69). Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Eduardo, Ramsey, Silvestre, Eboué, Gibbs.

Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).

Crowd noise

'Is there a fire drill?' sang the Arsenal fans as the home support left before the end.

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