Good evening and welcome to the second leg of the Champions League qualifier between Arsenal and Celtic. The Gunners hold a two-goal lead after dominating the first leg in Scotland and will probably rest most of their starters today in anticipation of the big weekend clash against Manchester United.
Celtic, meanwhile, will be trying to salvage whatever they can from this tie. A consolation goal, fancy new suits from Oxford Street, tickets to a play on the West End...there are pretty long odds on Celtic to make a comeback here. It's not impossible, but it's highly unlikely.
It looked painfully easy for Arsenal last week, and I'm expecting more of the same. Even if they rest their regulars, it should be another Arsenal win.
Arsenal 3-1 Celtic.
Almunia, Gallas, Eboue, Sagna, Clichy, Vermaelen, Song, Diaby, Denilson, Eduardo, Bendtner
Boruc, Caldwell, Hinkel, Loovens, Fox, Donati, Brown, McGeady, Maloney, McDonald, Fortune
Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain)
Celtic's away strip is absolutely garish. Day-glo yellow and black? I'm watching this in high-def, and I think my eyeballs just started bleeding. It burns, it burns!
Wenger is going with a 4-3-3, Diaby out wide on the left in Arshavin's usual place. Perhaps he's being rewarded for a great showing against Portsmouth on the weekend.
Tony Mowbray is going with a 4-4-2 with Fortune and McDonald up front. Will they test the Arsenal defense?
1 min: Arsenal kick off in their classic red and white home strip. Celtic, resembling radioactive bumblebees, defending.
2 min: It's a very high-paced start. Celtic know they've got to score first to have any chance, and they're moving very quickly around the pitch. Arsenal have already been whistled for two fouls, perhaps taken aback by the Bees' quick start.
3 min: Loovens makes a terrible backpass towards Boruc that's intercepted by Eduardo, but he's been bailed out by the whistle. Apparently there was an infraction back by the Arsenal box, and Almunia hoofs the kick down the pitch.
5 min: Alex Ferguson is in the stands, scouting the Gunners. Mind you, the lineup he's watching today will probably not be the same one he sees on Saturday.
7 min: Denilson takes down McDonald some 30 yards from goal. Not a smart decision. Maloney to take the set piece, right into the wall. Well done.
8 min: William Gallas, the European leader in goals scored by somebody's shot luckily deflecting off their unsuspecting teammate's body, leads an Arsenal counter that fizzles out.
9 min: A great move through Bendtner! Boruc is forced into a save at point-blank range, and Eduardo narrowly misses tucking the rebound home. Bendtner started that with a great run at the heart of the defense.
11 min: First corner of the match to Arsenal. Eduardo gathers the ball and steps up to the flag. It deflects of Bendtner but Arsenal retain possession, only to lose it thanks to a feisty Celtic defense.
13 min: Denilson with a chance! A great one-two move with Eboue sets Denilson free in the box, but he probably waits too long with his shot and puts it into the side netting. Great stuff from Arsenal though, they've found their stride.
15 min: Eboue tries a nifty little dribbling trick (the Garrincha, I believe) but rather than faking out a defender, he falls on his face. Physical comedy at its finest.
16 min: The second menacing cross in as many minutes is whipped in by Denilson. He missed Abou Diaby's forehead by that much. Celtic haven't really done anything to threaten the Arsenal goal yet.
18 min: Bendtner has come to play tonight. He nicks the ball away at midfield and tries to beat Celtic's defense into the box. He was nearly successful, but at the end he conceded a goal kick.
19 min: A diving header clears an Aiden McGeady cross, which leads to another Arsenal counter. Bendtner tries to pick out Eduardo with a pass that would have put him through unopposed, but it was just slightly off, allowing Caldwell to extinguish the threat.
22 min: Another McGeady cross is dealt with, this time by Almunia. It's better from Celtic, but still not good enough to win the tie. Bendtner is called for a handball, but pleads with the ref, probably claiming that he deserves lenience, being nearly as gangly and awkward as Peter Crouch.
24 min: Some nifty work from Diaby leads to an open shot from Eboue. It was a good effort, but a couple of yards wide. Frustrated, Eboue shouts some naughty words at himself.
26 min: Penalty kick to Arsenal! Another great passing move through Eboue put Eduardo in alone on Boruc. Eduardo flicks the ball ahead as Boruc slides out, and Eduardo goes down. The replay reveals no contact, but it was a great acting job by the Croation.
28 min: GOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!! Eduardo steps up and calmly places his shot past Boruc. One-nil to the Arsenal.
30 min: It's now been a half-hour without Fabregas, and it looks like Arsenal still remembers how to play football. Celtic now must score thrice, a tall order for any visitor to the Emirates.
32 min: Another good cross by Sagna, but Eduardo can't challenge Boruc. At the other end of the pitch, Song commits a foul on the wing, 30 yards out. Good chance for Celtic to pull one back.
33 min: And Danny Fox puts his shot well over the bar. That's just poor. On the resulting counterattack, Caldwell pulls down Eboue and draws a booking.
35 min: Sagna draws a foul on the right wing. He's too quick for Celtic to deal with. Eduardo takes the kick, and boots it well over everybody, out into touch.
38 min: Gallas puts a great move on Scott Brown and ends up winning a corner. My goodness, Arsenal are playing some beautiful football tonight. The corner is too high for everybody though.
40 min: GOOOAAAA...no, offside. Fortune crossed on the ground to McDonald, who was sitting right on Almunia's back post. Offside by half a yard, but Celtic have finally put one in the net against Arsenal.
42 min: McGeady gets McGreedy (ha!) with a shot from 30 yards out. It's wide, and it's back to the drawing board for Celtic.
45 min: Passes going awry all over the place right now. The match has stagnated just a bit. Loovens finds McGeady on the wing, but he's immediately swarmed by a pair of red shirts.
45+1 min: Eboue breaks down the left flank and finds Eduardo. The Croatian fires a gorgeous curling shot toward the far post, and it's all Boruc can do to tip it out for a corner. That's it for the first half.
Yes, it was a dubious penalty, but you can't fault Eduardo for trying. It was a great bit of acting on his part, but Celtic will be rightfully upset by the decision. Boruc can be seen arguing with the officials on his way to the changing rooms.
With that one questionable decision, Arsenal is now a lock for the group stages while Celtic will be forced to try their luck in the Europa Cup.
All of the luck in this tie has gone Arsenal's way, but an aggressive club creates their own luck and that's what Arsenal has done.
Andrew McNair has posted the following complaint to my facebook status (one-nil to the Arsenal)—"Because of a dive. Classy stuff." I know...it was a terrible call by Gonzalez, and Boruc has every right to be upset with it. Fair point, Andrew, and now you've made me feel guilty cheering for Arsenal.
46 min: Halftime change for Celtic: O'Dea on, Caldwell off. The radioactive bees kick off to start the half.
48 min: For those of you who can't do maths, Celtic must score three now, and keep Arsenal at bay for the rest of the match. McGeady does his best to get the scoring started with a rocket of a shot that fizzes just past the post. Almunia's heart will be racing after that shot.
50 min: Arsenal breaks thanks to an Almunia punch. Denilson finds Eduardo in the center, and after putting himself into space thanks to a couple of dekes, Eduardo scuffs his shot wide. Badly.
52 min: Fun fact about Eduardo's opener: it was the first goal in this tie that Arsenal have scored with their own feet. Gallas scored with his back, and Caldwell had an own goal.
53 min: GOOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!! Arsenal 2-0 Celtic. Diaby takes a great backheel from Bendtner and feeds Eboue in the middle. He moves to the right a few steps and puts his shot across Boruc and into the net. Surely it's all over.
55 min: McDonald fires a wishful shot toward goal from 40 yards out. It goes high, and we learn that Eboue was booked for his celebration. McGeady also picks up a booking for a dangerous challenge on Diaby.
59 min: For now, Arsenal are content to sit back and wait for Celtic to try and string together a decent attack. We might see some substitutions soon, so Wenger can rest some players ahead of Saturday's big match.
61 min: Celtic substitions: McGeady off, Lee Naylor on. Maloney off, Flood on. Arsenal sub: Diaby off, Ramsey on to a big cheer.
63 min: Dejected looks on the faces of the Celtic support. Perhaps they've just realized how rubbish their away kits look.
65 min: Denilson plays a beautiful backheel to Vermaelen, who had gotten bored in back and decided to try his luck up front. He loses possession, but we'll still have the memory of that great pass.
68 min: Aaron Ramsey looks like he's picked up a bit of a knock after contesting a 50-50 ball with Brown. He's limping fairly heavily, but he'll try to run it off.
70 min: Fortune splits a couple of defenders and finds himself in the box. He wins a corner for Celtic, which Naylor tries to volley into the back of the net. Tries. He was about 15 yards wide with his shot.
72 min: Arsenal subs: Arshavin and Wilshere on, Eduardo and Eboue off. Great contributions tonight from the departing players.
74 min: Bendtner tries to play a cross into the box, but instead falls over. Interesting strategy, that, and it doesn't pay off.
74 min: GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!!!! Arsenal 3-0 Celtic. Arshavin is the benefactor of a steal by Denilson, and plays a nice one-two to get into the box. A quick turn and right-footed shot is all that it takes to beat Boruc.
75 min: Wilshere surges forward and nearly finds Arshavin again. Celtic are spared only by a very timely tackle.
78 min: Boruc makes a great save on Wilshere, who had bolted 40 yards unchallenged and tried to chip the Celtic keeper. Great effort from Wilshere, even better save. Corner to Arsenal.
81 min: Celtic just look completely gassed right now. They've lost their energy and imagination.
82 min: Bendtner is whistled for offsides when there is no evidence of an infraction. He looks puzzled. It was a great through-ball from Arshavin and Bendtner was in on goal. Maybe it was a whistle born out pity.
83 min: And we've got some handbags! Wilshere is whistled rightfully for a hard tackle, and Brown takes exception, yelling at the teenager. Brown and Denilson have a brief shoving match, and each are shown yellow for their troubles.
86 min: Celtic lose possession in midfield once again—a recurring theme tonight—and Arsenal attack through Wilshere. A good tackle by Hinkel prevents Arshavin from latching onto a pass that would have likely led to a second goal for the Russian.
87 min: Arsenal down to 10 men for the moment. It looks like Ramsey has gone off injured.
89 min: Flood finds Naylor's head on a cross, but Naylor mistimes his leap and hits his shot too high. Probably Celtic's best opportunity of the entire match.
90 min: Two extra minutes added on. Will it be enough for Celtic to score five times? Or even once? Not likely.
90+2 min: GOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!! Arsenal 3-1 Celtic. It was a great strike from Donati on a diagonal ball. He was at full stretch, and somehow beat Almunia with a volley at an impossible angle. Still, it will be little consolation for the Scots.
Full time: That's 15 goals in four matches for Arsenal this season, and they'll get two well-earned days of rest before their match against Manchester United. They've beaten Celtic 5-1 on aggregate, and more important, my pre-match prediction was right!
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