Arsenal hold the upper-hand going into the second leg of the Champions League play-off after beating Celtic 2-0 at Parkhead last night. Both goals were somewhat fortuitous - the first came from a deflection off William Gallas's back and the second was an own goal - but the overall performance was both comfortable and commanding.
After Saturday's romp at Goodison Park, it would have been too much to expect the Gunners to go to Glasgow and repeat that kind of showing. What they did produce though was a highly professional display that got the job done with the minimum of fuss.
Celtic were far more competitive and stronger in the tackle than Everton had been at the weekend but an unchanged Arsenal side coped with their physicality and dominated possession; controlling the tempo of the match and moving the ball with fluency. It was a measure of their supremacy that home support, who had cranked up the decibels inside the stadium around kick-off-time, quickly became subdued and were given very little to sing about for the entire match.
Arsene Wenger's men created plenty of openings and half-chances despite not showing the keenest of cutting edges up front. Andrey Arshavin had a quiet game and Robin Van Persie hasn't quite got his eye in yet but the Gunners still looked the more potent striking force as Celtic were restricted to just one decent chance of their own. On another day, the margin of victory might have been wider. As it was, the two goals that were scored had an element of luck about them. Still, for a team that is often criticised for not being able, or willing, to poach ugly goals, no one can really complain about the means by which the ball crossed the line. The objective was to go to a difficult away ground and get a result - and that is exactly what the players did.
Arguably, the most impressive aspect of last night's performance was the industry and commitment the team showed when defending. It was something that was noticeable at the weekend too. When not in possession, every player took responsibility for tracking back, harrying opposition players and closing down space. Cesc Fabregas led by example and was magnificent throughout. He showed incredible levels of energy and looked a class apart in midfield. His central midfield partner, Alex Song, had another strong, solid match and is beginning to impress in the "Flamini role" alongside Cesc - and that is something I couldn’t have imagined writing two years ago. Whether he truly proves to be the answer as Arsenal’s midfield anchor man over the course of a whole season remains to be seen but, credit where credit is due, at the weekend and again last night, he has looked a much-improved player.
We also got another look at new signing Thomas Vermaelen and, again, he did not disappoint. He looks to be a technically adept defender who has pace and bravery and last night he showed that, on the evidence so far, he was worth the money that was spent on him. It will take him time to settle in and develop some telepathy with his defensive colleagues but early portents are very encouraging and he appears to be an excellent addition to the squad.
The team finally make their bow at Ashburton Grove when they take on Portsmouth on Saturday. The first home game of the season is always a special occasion and, coming on the back of two such outstanding away performances, this match will be even more hotly anticipated by both players and supporters. It will be vital to get off to a good start at home in order to further cultivate the positivity and belief that the opening games have fostered.
Confidence breeds confidence and a victory on Saturday will set the squad up for the second leg against Celtic on Wednesday and then two difficult away trips to Manchester to face United and then City over the next couple of weeks.