Replacing Patrick Vieira is never an easy task, but having to do it in a UEFA Champions League tie in Moscow against a talent like Dmitri Loskov is demanding a lot.
That is exactly what was asked of Brazilian midfield player Edu as Arsenal FC visited FC Lokomotiv Moskva in what was billed as a must-win encounter for both sides after they lost their opening Group B encounters. In direct opposition was Loskov, the Russian international and Lokomotiv talisman.
The early signs were encouraging for the English side as Edu started like a man possessed, clearly determined to prove himself to coach Arsène Wenger, who still prefers the Vieira-Gilberto midfield axis in his first choice XI. In the opening minutes, he broke up a Lokomotiv attack down the left and laid a simple ball off to Thierry Henry who won a corner. He then demonstrated his willingness for the fight with a magnificent saving tackle as the dangerous Marat Izmailov threatened to burst through.
Edu's early involvement quickly outlined his role for the evening. When he plays alongside Vieira he is given licence to push forward and has chipped in with the odd important goal during his time at Highbury. However, in Vieira's absence, Edu declined the opportunity to get forward in a bid to further protect his back four. He did, though, display his creative side after nine minutes with a wonderful through-ball for the usually prolific Henry, but, for once, the French international lacked composure in front of goal.
After a slow start during which time the home team failed to assert themselves, Loskov finally came to life. After leading a break down the right, the 29-year-old picked out a wonderful cross-field ball to Mikheil Ashvetia who, with a better first touch, would have had a clear run on goal.
Loskov's trademark is cute through-balls but most of Lokomotiv's chances in the opening period stemmed from set-pieces and the hosts twice came close, with Loskov playing a part on both occasions.
Lehmann in way
After 31 minutes, he whipped in a right-wing corner, which Ashvetia met with a near-post flick - Lehmann producing a smart parry. Shortly afterwards, Loskov curled in a 20-metre free-kick which appeared destined for the top corner but, with Lehmann rooted to the spot, dipped enough only to land on the roof of the net.
The second period was a much tighter affair as both defences got on top. Edu seemed to drop further and further back, only contributing a trio of wayward free-kicks, while Loskov sparkled sporadically. What threats Lokomotiv did conjure up, however, still centred on their captain. He fired a 25-metre effort over the bar on the hour mark and was only denied a late winner by a magnificent saving block by Arsenal's Kolo Touré.
The goalless draw will have satisfied Arsenal more than Lokomotiv. And Edu can claim to have played a crucial part. His discipline in defensive areas frustrated the home side and no one more so than Loskov, who, nevertheless, was his side's outstanding player.
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