Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Arsenal Are Finally Living Up to the Hype; Another Easy Win, without Three of the Club's Biggest Names, Showcased a Side Starting to Bear out Their Boss's Confidence

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Arsenal Are Finally Living Up to the Hype; Another Easy Win, without Three of the Club's Biggest Names, Showcased a Side Starting to Bear out Their Boss's Confidence

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley

ARSENAL 3

CELTIC 1

Arsenal win 5-1 on aggregate

ALTHOUGH it wasn't exactly a second-string side with which Arsenal beat Celtic, the fact Gunners moved so effortlessly into the Champions League proper bereft of their three most influential players provided a strong case that the supporting cast may have what it takes to deliver this season.

There are undoubtedly sterner tests to come than the tame showing the Hoops produced in trying to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit but a fluidity in movement and impressive tempo were in evidence despite Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin all being absent from the starting XI.

Saturday's teatime trip to Manchester United - probably without the services Fabregas who, said Wenger, is losing his battle to recover from a hamstring strain - will provide the most accurate approximation of where Arsenal are after such an impressive start to the season. But it is noteworthy that the manager now predicts the fulfilment of potential in this Arsenal side in months rather than years, as has so often been the case previously.

"We are now in the top, top league in Europe with all the big names," said Wenger, who will learn his side's fate in tonight's group stage draw.

"Somebody told me our team last night was an average age of 23.9 years [it was actually 25.09 but you get his point]. That means if we can get out of the group stage, then in six months we can be even stronger.

"That is what we want to focus on, to continue to improve our team play, the speed of our game and show that we have made big improvements come Saturday at 5.15pm."

The main improvement has been that Arsenal have clearly worked hard on pressing opponents and playing their intricate football higher up the pitch. This makes it harder for teams to come to Emirates Stadium just to defend deep and although playing a with a higher back line leaves the defence vulnerable to pace in behind, Celtic had neither the guile nor the ambition to compromise this new approach.

United, of course, carry a far greater threat but it must be remembered that Arsenal's problems came against the lesser lights of the Premier League last season - excluding Europe, there was just one defeat against the 'Big Four'.

Yes, last night's penalty came about thanks to a shameful Eduardo dive that Tom Daley would have been proud of, but Arsenal's endeavour helped reinforce the palpable gulf in class.

"I don't think Eduardo even speaks English so there was no point talking to him," said Celtic defender Glenn Loovens. "It is very disappointing but that is football. It is sad it happened to us, I don't think it is really fair."

Had the tie been delicately poised when goalkeeper Artur Boruc went to challenge the Croatian, there might have been more cause for complaint. …

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