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Eduardo provides the perfect end to Arsenal’s near-perfect evening

Arsenal 5 Shakhtar Donetsk 1

Song 19, Nasri 42, Fàbregas 60 pen, Wilshere 66, Chamakh 69; Eduardo 82

Arsenal maintained their 100% record in Champions League Group H with one of the most comfortable European nights they have ever enjoyed, as Shakhtar Donetsk were brushed aside with dismissive ease.

Arsenal made two changes from the team who beat Birmingham on Saturday, with captain Cesc Fàbregas returning to midfield in place of Abou Diaby, and Tomáš Rosický stepping in for Andrey Arshavin, who had looked lethargic at the weekend after returning from international duty.

Shakhtar, winners of the Ukrainian league in four of the last six seasons, started six of the team who won the old UEFA Cup in 2009, with former Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva starting on the bench. The visitors set out their stall early on to deny Arsenal space in the final third, as the hosts prodded and probed in their customary fashion. Their containment tactic worked for the best part of 20 minutes as Arsenal enjoyed the majority of possession without creating a single clear-cut chance.

Alex Song opened the scoring for Arsenal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

But Arsenal, particularly at the Emirates, will always create opportunities, and in the 19th minute they breached the Ukrainians’ defence with their first shot. Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov dropped a Samir Nasri corner, Johan Djourou nicked the ball away with his toe and Alex Song scrambled it in with his heel for only his second ever Champions League goal. It was the first goal conceded by Shakhtar in this year’s competition.

With the comfort of the opening goal Arsenal, without ever getting out of second gear, continued to move the ball around efficiently without carving out many openings. Marouane Chamakh nodded the ball down for Nasri to hit a fierce drive from just inside the box, but straight at a grateful Pyatov. At the other end, Łukasz Fabiański was a virtual spectator, with one authoritative punch from a corner the only time he was called into action throughout the first 45 minutes.

Samir Nasri scored his sixth goal of the season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

1-0 at half-time would have been eminently satisfactory. But three minutes before half-time Song sent in a cross from the right which was deflected into the path of Nasri, who controlled the ball around Darijo Srna with his right foot before rifling home with his left. Three chances, two goals – and the game as good as over already. Arsenal had been merely competent; in truth, Shakhtar had been so poor they had needed to be no better than that.

With the game in hand and half an eye on Sunday’s massive game at Manchester City, the second half was always going to be an exercise in avoiding complacency. Any danger of that was quickly shaken out of the home players within a minute of the restart, as Mkhitaryan stole the ball from Song and sent Luiz Adriano through on goal. But Fabiański was alert to the danger, advancing quickly off his line to block the shot well with his chest.

Cesc Fàbregas celebrated his return with a penalty (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Any thoughts Shakhtar might have had of launching a comeback were quickly crushed. With the interchanging movement of Fàbregas, Wilshere and Song proving too much for them, the Arsenal captain earned a free kick, Fabiano hauled Johan Djourou to the floor and Fàbregas sent the resultant penalty into the top corner.

With the game in the bag, the third goal was the cue for the first round of substitutions. Not wanting to tempt injury, Fàbregas gave way to Denilson, while Eduardo replaced Adriano to a warming welcome from the home crowd.

Arsenal, however, weren’t finished yet.

With his back to goal, Chamakh cleverly turned the ball round the corner for Wilshere. The England midfielder played a quick one-two with Rosický and calmly clipped the ball over Pyatov as the keeper dived at his feet. The youngster continues to impress with every passing game, his finish ice-cool, belying the fact this was only his second senior goal.

More agony quickly followed for the visitors. Nasri lofted a delicate sand wedge of a through-ball for Chamakh, and the Moroccan striker had time to look across at the linesman to check he was onside before coolly scoring, extending his consecutive goal-scoring streak in the Champions League to six games.

Arshavin and Theo Walcott, the latter on his return from injury, arrived as reinforcements to give Nasri and Chamakh a well-deserved rest, before Eduardo rounded off the night with a beautifully struck half-volley from 12 yards. The goal was greeted with a standing ovation by the Arsenal fans. (Fact fans: Eduardo has now scored for two different clubs against Arsenal, having scored the first competitive goal at the Emirates Stadium for Dinamo Zagreb in a Champions League qualifier in 2006.)

Arsène Wenger was pleased with the team’s overall performance:

I believe we made it easy because we had a good team performance. The goals came naturally through the game through great technical quality and overall I believe as well that our technical quality slowly got them tired. I felt they had given a lot in the first half to chase and be focused to defend well, and we took advantage of that in the second half.

Although it came against overmatched opponents, he was also happy with the way the Fàbregas/Wilshere partnership is developing:

I am convinced it works well together. Cesc just came back tonight but Jack has a good maturity level, you never think he’s 18 years of age when he plays. They combine very well. The midfield worked very well tonight.

[Wilshere] didn’t hide from challenges tonight. Sometimes when you get such a storm you want to go the other way and what was important tonight was that he just played football. He just went for the game like a real player. He has a good technical level but also does not hide from the challenges. That is a tremendous strength that you do not want to lose at that level.

Finally, he acknolwedged Eduardo’s goal and the home crowd’s positive reception of him:

If you wanted someone to score a goal for Shakhtar Donetsk it was Eduardo because everybody has many good feelings for him. Everybody knows what a player he was when he arrived and what he went through, and his attitude has always been great. We are all happy for him.

Overall, it was exactly the sort of game Wenger would have hoped for: a straightforward win in which his returning captain was able to ease his way back into the team, and in which his entire side was able to conserve energy for what promises to be a battle royal on Sunday in Manchester. The performance was as good as it needed to be – no more, no less – with enough flashes of brilliance to remind people just how good this team can be when they step it up. Maybe, just maybe, this team is maturing.

And Eduardo’s consolation strike was just the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. To see the Emirates crowd stand and applaud their former player had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. Yes, it’s easy to be charitable when you’re 5-1 up, but it was a classy gesture nonetheless.

In fact, in so many ways Eduardo’s goal was the perfect end to an almost perfect evening. With a maximum nine points from three games, Arsenal march on.

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The week in numbers: w/e 25/7/10

Muttiah Muralitharan

800Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan claimed his 800th victim by taking the final wicket on the final day of his 133rd and final Test before retiring from the long form of the game.

150 – British athlete Jodie Williams‘s gold medal in the 100 metres at the World Junior Championships in Canada last Wednesday was her 150th consecutive race victory. Her streak ended at 151 when she was beaten into second place in the final of the 200 metres.

100,000 – In dollars, the fine handed out to Ferrari for issuing team orders at yesterday’s German Grand Prix. The punishment could be increased by the World Motor Sport Council in the next few weeks.

Anthony Charteau

39 – In seconds, Alberto Contador‘s winning margin at the Tour de France – the exact amount of time he gained after taking advantage of Andy Schleck‘s slipped chain on stage 15.

11 – French riders have won the King of the Mountains competition in 11 of the past 17 years – Anthony Charteau added to the tally this year – but none have claimed the overall race win since 1985.

6 – Stages won by French riders at this year’s Tour, the most since 1997.

Eduardo (image © Arsenal.com)

23.5%Eduardo da Silva completed his transfer from Arsenal to Shakhtar Donetsk, having never fully recovered from a broken leg sustained against Birmingham City in 2008. He had scored with 23.5% of his shots in the Premier League before his injury, but converted just 6.3% after.

88Australia‘s first innings score against Pakistan at Headingley was their lowest Test match total in 26 years (76, versus West Indies at Perth in 1984), and their seventh-lowest ever.

61 – Former world snooker champion Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins died after a long battle against throat cancer on Saturday, aged 61.

Some statistics courtesy of @optajim and @OptaJoe.)

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