Without Thierry, it’s Hamlet without the prince

A young Arsenal team stuttered to their first victory at the Emirates last night, beating Dinamo Zagreb 2-1.

Flamini scored the winner in the 90th minute.

Without Bergkamp, Vieira and Cole, the current side lacks the dynamism which has been a hallmark of Arsene-football in the last decade.

For me, the formation looked too much like 4-4-2 and Arsene’s Arsenal can’t really play 4-4-2 because that system depends on pressing, crossing and momentum.

At the moment they play a patient possession game, working angles and probing for openings and shooting positions

But last night the team lacked fluency, especially after Zagreb scored an early goal on the break when Toure’s bungled tackle gifted the ball to Eduardo, who drilled a low left-foot shot past Almunia.

So, after 11 minutes, it was 3-1 on aggregate.

Left back Justin Hoyte’s passing was truly shocking. Adebayor never looked like scoring and wasted the best chance of the game. Unmarked in 53 minutes, he blazed over the bar.

Van Persie demonstrated his virtuousity, looked dangerous as usual, but his improvisations usually led to shots, sometimes from silly angles. Will he ever be a team player?

Without Henry, frankly, it was Hamlet without the prince.

The surprise team news was that vice-captain Gilberto was on the bench, so Ljungberg was captain for the first time ever, and Flamini partnered Fabregas in central midfield.

Last season I heard that Arsene reckoned that teams would have to make longer passes on the bigger Emirates pitch, which would give Flamini more chances to intercept.

That notion worried me at the time because Flamini does not have the football brain to play midfield for Arsenal.

In 24, FABREGAS took a good free-kick which Toure  headed down to van Persie, whose shot deflected off a defender on the line, hit the underside and bounced down just in front of the line. Aston Villa was an anti-climax and on a wet night the fans were now wondering whether this would be Anti-climax Revisited.

Freddie hit the keeper’s foot with a sharp first-time shot but Etto replied with a zippy run down the left, cut inside Flamini, and sent a fierce shot fizzing two feet wide of the near post.

It looked as if Arsenal needed Henry. But it also looked as if the big pitch meant a slower build-up.

THE SECOND HALF started badly when Fabregas played a two-yard pass on the edge of his box and gave the ball away.

It was really surprising to see Fabregas, the cool constructor, do that three times, overplaying in the wrong areas.

In 68, he gave Djourou a terrible backpass that could have been a hospital ball, or even a red card ball.

Djourou was obliged to lunge for the ball but he missed it and clattered the striker and got a yellow card. He was not the last man. Toure was covering. If Djourou had been the last man, he would have been sent off.

Then Freddie headed in Robin van Persie’s swinging free-kick, a glancer from the penalty spot which bounced down in front of the keeper, quite centrally, not in the corner. An opportunist strike.

Henry had replaced Adebayor in 65 and in 90 he turned and played the ball wide to Walcott, whose low cross fizzed in from the right to the unmarked Flamini, who stopped the ball and smashed it in for 2-1.

THEO WALCOTT is not suffering from new stadiumitis. He didn’t play at Highbury, so the Emirates is home to him.

Twice in five days Walcott has come on and created vital goals against Villa and Zagreb.

When Henry came on, Fabregas started to play like Fabregas.

When Walcott came on to join Henry, we saw the most exciting moment of the game : a lightning diagonal dart by Walcott onto Henry’s cleverly angled pass.The linesman gave offside, wrongly. And Walcott was booked for shooting after the whistle, which he claimed to have not heard.

No matter, the kid didn’t protest. He is mild-mannered and that’s good. No referee wants to hear an opinion about a decision he gave five seconds ago, especially from a seventeen year old.

THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW is at 5pm and I will put up Arsenal’s group opponents here as soon as they are known.

THE TEAM will be playing better than this in mid-September. And it will then contain Rosicky and Gallas, two experienced world class players.

This stuttering victory proved that Arsenal need a half-striker who can see passes early and score goals.

TOMAS ROSICKY is the only half-striker at the club.

His skills should not be wasted doing donkey work and he should not be wasted on the left wing either.

What was missing against Zagreb is something that will be crucial in coming months: the Fabregas-Rosicky partnership.

That pair of classy players has to give Arsenal some of what they got from Vieira-Bergkamp.

If the Czech stays fit and plays 40 games, Arsenal will have a good season.

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Almunia; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Hoyte; Hleb (Gilberto, 69), Fabregas, Flamini, Ljungberg;  Van Persie ( Walcott, 81), Adebayor (Henry, 65).

Subs not used: Poom (gk), Song, Cygan, Aliadière.

DYNAMO ZAGREB (5-4-1): Turina; Dpric, Corluka, Mamic, Cvitanovic, De Jesus; Modric, Vukojevic (Ljubojevic, 89), Agic (Buljat, 69), Etto (Tomic, 90); Eduardo.
Subs not used: Loncaric (gk), Costa, Pandev.

Referee: B. Layec (France).