by JAMES CURTIS Ronald Koeman and his trusted staff accommodated the away dug-out last night wearing long black trench coats, black ties and matching leather gloves. As Arsenal pounded the Alkmaar goal one of his grey-haired men scribbled notes into small black book. It was like watching a scene from The Untouchables.
While I’m thinking of the American gangster film with Sean Connery you’ll be drooling over memories of the late Arsenal team coined with the same name by Arsene Wenger.
But that is in the past and Arsenal are no longer ‘The Untouchables’, they are now becoming ‘The Responsibles’. One hoarding at the Emirates last night even read ‘Enjoy Responsibly’. Overlook the fact it was promoting beer because it summed up quite simply the Gunners performance last night.
Aside from the late goal conceded, Arsenal played the game they love: smooth passing, timing of the run, the side foot finish. The crowd were enjoying it and you could see the players thriving too.
Three of the goals only Arsenal could have orchestrated. Fine choreographing by the little Russian, Andrey Arshavin, who laid on three assists last night, was the result of endless Wenger training methods in the field of pass and move.
The first was a slide-rule pass straight into Samir Nasris path, after the Frenchman had wormed his way between the two AZ centre-halfs.
It was the pace on the ball which allowed Nasri to keep his balance and turn inside his defender with a slight change of direction. His marker was left praying on his knees and Nasri slotted calmly into the corner.
In the second half Arshavin was conducting his ensemble again. Had the AZ defence not learnt from the first leg about surrendering possession to Arshavin?
Pouncing on the lose ball he carried it with close control towards the recoiling AZ defenders. In seconds Fabregas was supporting and finished off a delicate pass high past the keeper.
Knowing when to make such forwards runs is all noted down in the new Arsenal book of responsibility. Just look at Diaby’s crowing goal, so delicious it reminded me of that Honda advert where all the used car parts create a domino effect. You know the one.
Eduardo had received the ball around the half-way line facing his own goal and with nothing else on the Croatian forward back-heeled the ball into Arshavin’s lane who had already made his run. Now enter Diaby.
His surge forward was nicely timed and brought around a wry smile from Wenger and Pat Rice. Diaby had infuriated his boss during the Spurs game for not sitting in midfield, but last night his maturity paid off.
At times his passing and control were suspect although his tackling and back-tracking were more on show. Like a boy who had completed all his chores then, Diaby bombed forward in playful mood at 3-0 to receive another pass from Arshavin. Look close and you could see a trail of drool behind the Frenchman, but anyhow, he held his nerve and caressed the ball home.
For me, the ‘enjoy responsibly’ was summed up in the 22nd minute when Tommy Vermaelen lambasted a ball high into the stands to clear the danger. At times this needs doing, something which Arsenal haven’t had since the good old days of Tony Adams.
Reassuringly, Arsenal now have somebody in Vermaelen, who can take direct action when warranted. Doubly comforting was seeing Eduardo use his back-heel party-piece higher up the field and at the right moment when the game was dead for AZ. Earlier in the season Eduardo was punished for attempting a back-heel on the edge of the Arsenal box.
Sitting in the studio last night was a pleased Tony Adams. He is one of few ex-Arsenal players who seem to believe in the Wenger project. Last night he peeked ahead at the weekend fixture away at Wolves, explaining Arsenal need to head to Molineux looking for a tight one or 2-0 win.
I make him right and a likewise result would really make me start to believe in the maturity of this Arsenal side. Wenger does, Adams does but I’m not convinced the rest of the Premier League quite see it. Do you?