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The Libero - Who needs Fabregas when you have Arshavin

Published: 10 Mar 2010 - 06:59:16

Here we were thinking that Cesc Fabregas was the be all and end all for Arsenal. The Gunners' Wayne Rooney, their Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard rolled into one. The man upon whose shoulders rested any hope of success this season.

Well, Arsenal's historic 5-0 thumping of Porto to emphatically seal a spot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League proved they are far from a one-man band.

Yes, Porto's away record against English teams isn't the best. And yes, they are far from the European powerhouses they once were. But Arsenal still needed to defy the odds to see them overturn the 2-1 deficit they faced going into the second leg of the tie at the Emirates.

It was, as Ron Atkinson might have said, a 'big ask' especially considering the Gunners had not managed to come from behind after a first leg defeat in European football since 1978, back when all but Manuel Almunia and Sol Campbell of Arsenal's starting XI were still twinkles in their parents' eyes. And this time they were deprived of their star player. Yet how they delivered.

Arsene Wenger had said in the build-up to the match that he would not use the absence of the hamstrung Fabregas as an excuse for failure. Such have been Wenger's recent leanings towards hypocrisy, it would have come as no surprise if he had, but in the end he did not need to, as the side he sent out simply blew away their Portuguese opposition.

Without Fabregas, and fellow crocks William Gallas and Robin van Persie - the trio which forms the spine of Wenger's team - it was time for another to step up to the plate to conduct the Gunners' orchestra to victory. That man proved to be Andrey Arshavin.

The mercurial Russian might not have got his name on the scoresheet but he was everywhere, pulling the strings for Wenger's well-tuned side and laying on three of their goals. He was not even fully fit, having only returned to action after three and a half weeks out injured at the weekend.

Fabregas's understudy Samir Nasri also played a blinder, the young Frenchman having a hand in the first and adding the fourth himself.

And what about Nicklas Bendtner, the man who could not hit a barn door with a banjo three days ago yet showed the poise of Gerd Muller in front of goal on Tuesday? Credit must go to Wenger for keeping faith in the Dane, who to his own credit never seems to lose faith in himself.

It would have been easy for Wenger to overlook Bendtner in the wake of glut of chances he missed against Burnley at the weekend - and the stinging criticism that followed. But Wenger is a stubborn man and he persevered with him when others may have turned to Eduardo or even Theo Walcott.

The Dane did not disappoint his manager, finding the back of the net three times to claim the first hat-trick of his senior career and leave the home crowd with rather unfamiliar feelings for the striker as they made their way home.

Even Sol Campbell didn't put a foot wrong on the night and with so many positives to take from the game, it is easy to see how important this result may prove for the Gunners' season. Two gritty wins against lesser domestic opposition followed by a thrilling and, well, typically Arsenal performance against Porto have combined to put Wenger's side in an extremely healthy position on two fronts heading into the final furlong of the campaign.

Doubts still remain over the porosity of their back line, but as long as the likes of Arshavin, Nasri and Bendtner can maintain the electric form they showed against Porto, Arsenal, who are searching for a first piece of silverware since 2005, may not need Fabregas back at all.

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DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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