SOCCER/Champions League Quarter-finals, first leg/Arsenal 2 Juventus 0: A reunion with old friends can be a disturbing experience. So it was for Patrick Vieira, who came back to Highbury and found himself, along with the rest of the Juventus midfield, outplayed by the superb teenager Cesc Fábregas on a glorious evening for Arsenal.
Fábregas opened the scoring in a match that has put the London club on the verge of the semi-finals for the first time in its history.
Vieira need not worry about encountering this exciting side in Turin since he will be absent through suspension after a yellow card here. So, too, will be Mauro Camoranesi, dismissed in the 87th minute after a second caution. Two minutes later the right-back Jonathan Zebina met the same fate. This home triumph was particularly delightful to the Highbury manager because of his pet theory.
Arsène Wenger had claimed, contentiously, that a European tie is decided in its first leg. That is not an opinion Juventus would endorse and the Arsenal manager's comment seemed at first to add to the pressures on his youngish side. Perhaps it was intended to divert attention from the task presented by illustrious opponents. That might just have assisted the 18-year-old Fábregas, who scored a stylish opener after 40 minutes.
Arsenal had begun confidently enough, even if the deployment of Gilberto Silva behind a quartet of midfielders left Thierry Henry as the sole striker. The team, in addition to scoring, had supported its captain well enough before the interval to create the more noteworthy attacks. The visitors, put in that situation, were not without a certain nervousness.
It showed in the persistent fouls by Camoranesi that brought his first booking, after 24 minutes. A bit of cunning did seem as if it might be productive. In the Premiership match with Chelsea last season Henry scored from a quick free-kick while Jose Mourinho's team were still sorting out their defensive arrangement.
He tried the same ploy last night after 18 minutes but, with the goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon stuck close to his near post, the forward missed the target on the other side.
A more conventional attempt was also flighted high by Henry after Fabio Cannavaro had brought him down in the 36th minute. The faulty direction finding must have infuriated the striker since this did not seem like a tie that would allow a significant margin of error. Fábregas, too, before his goal, wasted a decent scoring opportunity.
In the 16th minute Alexander Hleb took a quick throw-in, Robert Pires controlled with his chest and suddenly backheeled to send the Spaniard free but he miscued his finish. As Juventus were to find out, the midfielder doesn't often repeat his mistakes.
Five minutes before the interval Pires, just inside his own half, amazed his former team-mate Vieira with an untypically sharp tackle on the left before advancing to tuck the ball inside to Henry. The latter rolled a through-pass and Fábregas sidestepped the great Lilian Thuram to steer the ball low into the net. Fabio Capello's team did not look all that inclined to attack but Fábregas's goal must have had them reviewing that stance.
There was indeed a change of attitude and, early in the second half, Kolo Touré was called upon to make his first really testing intervention of the game as he tackled an onrushing David Trezeguet inside the penalty area.
Even so, Arsenal did not immediately adopt a conservative approach and a deflected cross from overlapping full-back Emmanuel Eboué dropped just over in the 56th minute.
Juve's highly-rated pairing of Vieira and Emerson continued to experience difficulty in controlling the midfield. The Serie A champions might have gone 2-0 behind even earlier than they actually did. After an hour, a poor pass by José Antonio Reyes ran kindly and Fábregas set up Henry to cut in from the right to hit a curler that had Buffon stretching to concede only a corner.
Five minutes later he also had to reach a Fábregas drive. As against Real Madrid, here again, Arsenal struck a balance between prudence and a proper use of their attacking skills. With 25 minutes remaining, it was Juventus who appeared unsure how to cope. They were being obliged to depend on Buffon and even he could not save them when Arsenal had so much comfortable possession around the area. The second goal was constructed exquisitely after 69 minutes.
Hleb eased the ball through the inside-right channel and Fábregas ran through before cutting the ball back. It ran marginally behind Henry but, with sure technique, he still shot into the net. Juventus were in disarray and more bookings for late challenges followed culminating in the double sending off. The Arsenal manager was not alone last night in realising that his intriguing line-up can strike fear into the hearts of any side.
ARSENAL: Lehmann, Eboue, Toure, Senderos, Flamini, Hleb, Silva, Fabregas, Pires, Henry, Reyes (Van Persie 82). Subs not used: Almunia, Diaby, Bergkamp, Song Billong, Walcott, Djourou. Goals: Fabregas 40, Henry 69.
JUVENTUS: Buffon, Zebina, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Camoranesi, Vieira, Emerson, Mutu (Chiellini 71), Ibrahimovic, Trezeguet (Zalayeta 79). Subs not used: Abbiati, Kovac, Balzaretti, Blasi, Giannichedda. Sent off: Camoranesi (87), Zebina (89). Booked: Camoranesi, Trezeguet, Vieira, Zebina.
Referee: Martin Ingvarsson (Sweden)