Arsenal need Vieira – and heading practice

By Myles Palmer

Moscow Spartak 4 Arsenal 1

Silvinho had scored after 77 seconds. Marcao had equalised after 29 minutes. The score was 1-1 at half-time.

Then Spartak got their second goal after 51 minutes. Titov saw his first cross blocked by Adams. He regained the ball and passed to right back Tchuisse, who fed Baranov’s overlap. His cross was headed down by Marcao.

It was a miscued header which was bouncing wide. But Robson, who looked offside, knocked it in from two yards and the goal was given.

Then came the 28-minute period where the game was at 2-1 and still in the balance

Within seconds of that Robson goal the energetic, enterprising Silvinho burst forward and played a pass to Henry, whose backheel put Silvinho into the box again, but sweeper Ananko made a covering tackle.

Manninger parried two rocket shots from Baranov and Marcao in this period and Wenger took off the two players who were passengers by this time. Wiltord came on for Kanu, Lauren for Pires.

It was almost a siege now as the Russians mounted attack after attack.Bezrodnyi headed a wonky Adams pass to Robson, who played it back to Titov, who passed to Marcao and then spurted forward to support his pass, leaving Parlour and Vivas jogging gently just inside their own half.

Adams tackled and knocked the ball against Marcao’s foot and it broke into the run of Titov as Adams bumped into Keown. The Arsenal centrebacks had left acres of vulnerable space behind them.

Silvinho tried to sprint back but Robson blocked his run accidentally on purpose and Titov swept an imperious shot past Manninger from justinside the D.

The genius of Titov was apparent on the replay from behind the goal. He seemed to have all the time in the world as he glanced to Manninger’s right, waited for the keeper to dive, and then placed his shot to the other side.

One-on-one from 19 yards, Titov had scored as sweetly as if he was taking a penalty.A brilliant strike which ended the contest after 79 minutes and reminded me of Isaias, the gazelle-like Benfica midfielder of 1991.Nobody but Isaias has ever put three great goals past Seaman in two games.

Spartak varied their points of penetration often enough to avoid predictability.

They attacked and defended in packs, winning the ball and slicing forward at speed, especially when they were trying to equalise. Most of the match was played at a furiously fast pace, and the maestros of Mockba alternated between working the ball through the middle and feeding the overlaps of Baranov, which Pires did not track.

Their style combines the scientific and the artistic, with invidividual improvisations often so subtle as to be almost invisible within a highly-defined and repetitive team pattern.

The geometry of their possession & support is wonderful, reminiscent of Dynamo Kiev, whose energy, intelligence and technique make the beautiful game look simple. You think : why can’t other teams play like that?

They responded to the Silvinho goal with a whirlwind of skill and movement, pressing fiercely, winning the rebounds and second balls.

Spartak threaten your penalty spot with diagonal runs, and it is usually Titov,an elegant, creative powerhouse, who plays the killer pass behind your centrebacks. Fortunately, Arsenal’s offside trap worked well and prevented a score of 8-1.

At 24 Titov may be ready to do a Zidane / Totti job in Serie A. We shall see.

Having said all that, one great performance is not a great team. And Spartak had a lot of luck. They enjoyed the bounce of the ball on three of their goals.

The equaliser was scored when Adams, then Silvinho, failed to get distance on their defensive headers and the ball dropped neatly to the unmarked Marcao, whose scuffed volley bounced past Manninger rather flukily.

The second goal was a muffed header and offside. The third was a rebound off a shin to Titov.

The fourth was kamikaze defending by Tony Adams. At 34 he chased a wide ball he could not have reached at 24, allowing Tchuisse’s pass to find Robson in a vacant space as wide as Red Square. The big Brazilian powered round Manninger to make it 4-1 and hand Arsenal their heaviest

away defeat in Europe.

Two reports I read this morning said that the Kanu miss after seven minutes was the pivotal moment.

That is utter bollocks. If Kanu had made it 2-0, Spartak would still have won 4-2 or 6-2 or 3-2.

Overall verdict?

The Gunners had the same flaw as Leeds, who lost 2-0 to Real Madrid at Elland Road the same night : their ball winners were missing. Leeds were without Bakke and Dacourt, Arsenal lacked Vieira and Grimandi.

Arsenal drew the first half 1-1 and lost the second half

3-0.Leeds drew their first half 0-0 and lost the second half 2-0.

Clearly, the Champions League semi-finalists will be the four best second half teams.Man United are a second half team. Real Madrid are a second half team.

Arsenal bottomed out in Moscow, fizzled out like a sparkler, fell apart, collapsed.On this showing only Silvinho, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg are good enough to get into the Spartak side.

Bottom line? No Vieira. He protects the centrebacks. He anchors Arsenal. He does a bit of everything and holds everybody together. At his best Vieira is 50% of the team. He was needed to contain Titov. That duel will be interesting at Highbury on March 6th.

Leeds on Sunday?

Elland Road will probably provide the heading practice Arsenal badly need.Every other team scores with headers : Hierro for Real Madrid, Jeremies for Bayern, Gerrard for Liverpool against Olympiakos last night.

23rd November 2000.