When I heard the team for last night’s match, I realised that my anxiety about Arsenal’s fate was unfounded.
Dinamo gave us quite a game in Kiev and with so many players absent through injury, the unsettling nature of the past week or more in regards to results and internal strife and the lack of experience in the team, I feared the worst.
But seeing Wenger drop Nic Bendtner for Carlos Vela spoke volumes about Arsène Wenger’s understanding of the game and the need now, after such turmoil, to take a risk.
Remember, as we discussed here earlier this week, Wenger is an intensely loyal man and dropping Bendtner for Vela might have been a change most of us fans would have made, but it was out of the ordinary for Wenger.
Let’s be honest – Bendtner has struggled lately and Vela has shown in Carling Cup football that he has a potentially bright future ahead of him. But it was only the Carling Cup, not the Champions League.
If ever there was a case of being down to the bare bones, this was it.
Even with Johann Djourou forced out of position; with Robin van Persie looking disinterested for extended periods of the game unless there was a free kick in range; with Denilson not having the pace to cope with the fine positioning he found himself in; and with Alex Song matching some tenacious tackling with poor passing, it was always going to be a struggle.
Kiev’s showing last night was possibly one of the worst sides we have played in the Champions League – thankfully. Needing a win to give them a real chance of progressing, they hardly took the game to us as other attacking sides might have done.
I sat in the cold thinking that maybe, just maybe this would be back to the days of George Graham post the Magnificent Four. After creating a fine footballing side featuring Mickey Thomas, David Rocastle, Paul Davis and Anders Limpar, Graham started to play dour football which relied on one moment of brilliance and 89.55 minutes of drudgery.
Wenger will never go that way, of course, and nor should he with the talent at his disposal.
But even when he withdrew Aaron Ramsey – who I thought had a tidy game despite his natural inclination to come inside when he was supposed to be playing wide right – he brought on Bendtner instead of initially taking off Vela, a substitution he may well have made a few weeks ago.
Defeat against Kiev, who had their own glorious chance to take the lead and were denied by the brilliance of Manuel Almunia, would have put so much pressure on our final group match.
An improved performance by Cesc Fabregas, despite the tricky conditions, suggests the responsibility will not have the negative impact some feared it may.
Bringing on Jack Wilshere, he of so little senior experience, was quite a gamble and the type of gamble I want us to be making.
No wonder Wenger said afterwards: “Jack did extremely well and has big composure for such a young boy.”
We could all see how classy Wilshere will be. He dummied, flicked, looked and begged for the ball and started to unsettle players – something all defenders will become used to struggling against for the next 15-20 years.
Bendtner’s finish was fine and hopefully puts him in a better frame of mind for Sunday’s match against the Ch*vs. I still believe he is an impact sub more than a competent starter, but time will tell.
Last night was not one for the connoisseur or some of the fairweather Gooners who stayed at home when their team needed their support the most.
It was a case of squeezing out a result with the bare minimum of resources available. Win ugly may not be something a Wenger side is adept at, but last night's victory keeps our European season going until February - and we'll be a very different side by then.