PFC CSKA Moskva defender Aleksei Berezutskiy says his side had substitute Evgeni Aldonin to thank for a point after they survived a barrage of pressure from Arsenal FC to claim a goalless draw in UEFA Champions League Group G on Wednesday.
Aldonin, a surprise omission by CSKA coach Valeri Gazzaev, came on for Miloš Krasić to strengthen the midfield five minutes before half-time as Arsenal threatened to run away with the game. Berezutskiy believes the switch was pivotal to CSKA's success.
"We played below our best in the first half but we improved in the second and Arsenal had fewer chances," Berezutskiy said. "We didn't play as a team and there were holes in the midfield. That's why they were able to pass their way into our box and create chances. It was crucial that Aldonin came off the bench. He strengthened our midfield and after the interval, we came together and played as a team."
CSKA were fortunate to reach the break on level terms after Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Tomáš Rosický spurned clear chances. Berezutskiy admits the Russian champions found it hard to adapt to the wide expanses of the Arsenal Stadium pitch. "It is very difficult to fill empty zones and prevent players from cutting into the box. If the pitch is wide, it is much easier to attack than defend. The condition of the pitch is also much better than at Lokomotiv, which allows Arsenal to play with the ball on the ground."
CSKA have not conceded a goal in six UEFA Champions League outings, including qualifying, and as the match wore on with the deadlock persisting, they began to grow in confidence. "Ten minutes before the final whistle we had a feeling that we might not concede, but in general in the second half we felt more confident," the 24-year-old explained. "From minute to minute we became more convinced that we would not let in a goal."
CSKA top the group by one point from Arsenal and FC Porto and will qualify for the knockout rounds should they beat the Portuguese team in Moscow in three weeks' time. It is a measure of CSKA's belief that Berezutskiy cheekily suggests they should have got more from the tie. Vágner Love broke free early in the second half but his shot was saved by Jens Lehmann, leaving Berezutskiy to think what might have been. "Arsenal were lucky that Wagner failed to score," he said with a smile.
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