Rosicky, Gallas. Diaby and Lauren were all missing and Gilberto wasn't in the starting line up. As was the case against Newcastle we missed his covering. We knocked it about initially but Hamburg got in the first shot that went wide. It took us all of three minutes to go a goal down and Hamburg hadn't even had a corner at this point, which is our usual frailty. Rafael van der Vaart fired home a superb opening goal but where the hell were the Arsenal players who might have closed him down. 0-1 Hamburg and so a 1-1 seemed on the cards to the more astute Ashburton regulars. Interestingly the Germans were all booing Van Persie whenever he looked like touching the ball, which if nothing else suggests that they actually give a shit about International football.
The ref Claus Bo Larsen from Denmark inspired little or no confidence because he didn't understand that holding was a foul, consequently henry suffered all night. Freddie had started in midfield and his experience was crucial to the team but he's been out long enough to have lost some edge. Initially I though the same thing about Senderos but he put in a couple of tackles that showed those around him what was required. When Hleb, who was in fine form hit the bar I for one definitely had the feeling that it could be one of those nights. Henry wasn't sparking, Clichy was our most impressive forward and we looked wayward in midfield. Kolo of course was his robust impressive self but as the half wore on their opening goal looked more and more important.
Senderos got the first card when Mahdavikia went down like a sack of cabbages. Henry went down in their box, Van Persie tried to head a cross that was altogether too low. There was a run by Ljungberg where Robin couldn't apply the return ball. In all we were very bitty. Benjamin rolled around on the floor complaining after a corner and then he jumped up when nothing happened, except something happened because he got a yellow card for his play-acting. Van Der Vaart axed Van Persie for a yellow card. Mahdavikia shot on the break but saw his effort deflected for a corner. From a free kick we won a corner and from Van Persie's shot there was a goal line clearance that evaded Henry. Robin then had another shot which he struck with venom that was not too far away. Hleb picked up a yellow for nothing much more than had just been inflicted on him. Kolo had a midfield charge and Mahdavikia was replaced by Feilhaber. Two minutes of added time and we had still yet to get it together. At half time Arsenal optimists were rather thin on the ground and an exodus of early leavers with 15 minutes to go looked very much on the cards.
A great Clichy run opened our attack after the break but Robin couldn't wack it. Sanogo picked up a yellow card and Henry got me going because from the McLintock (blue) quadrant it looked as if he'd netted from a free kick. He had, but unfortunately the netting in question was on the outside of the goal. Kolo to Freddie for a corner and we were beginning to look the part. Cesc was central and moving forward, he didn't even look at Robin's well-timed run but found him whilst looking the other way with the perfectly weighted ball. Robin took it on his wrong foot and steered it low past their keeper. 52 minutes gone and we'd pegged it back to 1-1. Henry got a bit too charged up and was carded for bumping his chest into the man who'd been hanging on to his shirt all night. A really stupid thing to do because he now misses our crucial tie against Porto.
Utter brilliance from Hleb with a soft-shoe shuffle at 90 mph on the right wing. Clichy got a yellow for a late tackle. A low shot by Fillinger and another shot by the same player on their next break. Kolo was charging but our crosses, Eboue's especially, were off target. Hleb was fouled but it was the lino who had to tell the ref. Cesc to Clichy for another poor cross. Flamini axed. Eboue to Cesc with more good play but no end product. Kolo outsprinted a Hamburg break to stop a counter attack. Atouba was substituted and replaced by a badger called Ljuboja, if he was on to peg back Eboue he failed miserably. Van Persie won a fine tackle but it was given as a free kick to Hamburg. Van Persie was then replaced by Adebayor with twenty minutes to go, a strange call given our need for more goals I felt. We still had to win. Adebayor to Hleb, to Henry, but his shot was saved. Theo replaced Freddie. There are those who think Freddie is past it but I thought both his experience and work ethic were good for the team on the night.
Cesc hit a shot that was a long way out, came off a defenders boot and dipped down onto their bar to bounce away. There are times when you just think it's not your night and that was one of them. Senderos in hard on Sanogo free kick Hamburg. The Beast replaced the totally knackered Hleb who'd run himself into the ground. A good cross from Theo. Next move was a ball from Theo to Eboue who went on to drive a fierce low volley from an acute angle on the right. It should have been the keeper's ball but he screwed up and it went off him into the net. The pace had done him and so it was 2-1 to the Arsenal, but Trochowski soon got a shot in at the other end. Another fine run to the byeline and a low cross from our favourite kid was well cut out by the keeper. Lauth replaced Wicky just before Jens was required to punch away from the edge of his area and shortly after to make a save from quite a fierce shot.
Theo ‘Is he faster than Henry?' Walcott was put away down the right and got clear, Henry made a diagonal run taking his man away from the area and the Beast stormed into the box to meet the perfect cross from Theo. The keeper had gone near post and the Beast's header found an almost empty net. Great play, enjoyable goal and great celebrations. Fillinger had to trip Theo to prevent further embarrassment and was duly booked. There were three minutes added time during which Theo hit another killer ball and Cesc won a corner. We'd made hard work of an easy, on paper, match but we'd overcome the first goal hoodoo and now need a point in Porto to qualify. A highly enjoyable night by end of play but quite stressful till we scored.
The added bonus for me was that with our goals being in the 83rd and 88th minutes it meant that our embarrassing early leavers probably missed them. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.