Cesc Fabregas led by example as Arsenal booked their place in the UEFA Champions League second round with a 1-0 win against Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday. Just 24 hours after being installed as Arsenal's new skipper in place of William Gallas, the Spanish midfielder showed how to inspire a team with a typically sublime pass for Nicklas Bendtner's late winner at the Emirates Stadium.
For long periods, Arsenal looked as lacklustre as they had done recently under Gallas's captaincy, but Fabregas took the game by the scruff of the neck to ensure Arsene Wenger's side can look forward to playing in the knockout stages of European's elite club competition. It was more than Arsenal deserved for another lacklustre display and Dynamo's frustration was clear as midfielder Olexandr Aliyev was sent off for a petulant shove on referee Alain Hamer.
But Wenger will be grateful for small mercies. If the captaincy can take Fabregas's play to greater heights, it might not be all doom and gloom around the Emirates for too long. "Cesc was very good for me. He was focused for 90 minutes and worked hard defensively and offensively," Wenger said. "It wasn't easy in midfield. Overall he had a very good game.
"William's focus was great," Wenger added about Gallas. "He wanted to do well and you could see he was completely committed. I was very happy that the fans responded in a positive way to him."
Dynamo coach Yuri Semin added: "We were more or less equal with Arsenal and we played well but the result is what counts. We had some small chances which we didn't take and showed some tiredness at the end."
As expected, Wenger ended Gallas's brief exile for criticising his colleagues and restored the disaffected defender to his starting line-up. Despite Gallas's stinging criticism of Arsenal's youngsters last week there was no outward sign that he had been frozen out. The France centre-back exchanged hugs with his team-mates before kick-off and there were no jeers from the home fans.
Gallas's return was born as much of necessity as desire however. With a host of key players sidelined through injury, Wenger could hardly afford to leave out such an experienced player after a run of three defeats from four matches. Even so, Wenger still had to field a youthful team including a first Champions League start for Mexican striker Carlos Vela.
Aaron Ramsey, another of Wenger's young prodigies, had the first chance when he collected Vela's pass and drew a close-range save from Stanislav Bogush. Gallas was inevitably the centre of attention in the early stages. When Vela sent him sprawling to the turf after a mid-air collision, there was a mischievous temptation to interpret it as an act of dressing room revenge, but the clash was purely accidental.
Robin van Persie fashioned a shooting opportunity with a neat piece of footwork just before the break, only for Bogush to deny the Arsenal forward. Gallas's woeful week nearly took a turn for the worse when his under-hit backpass let in Ismael Bangoura but he could breathe again as the striker's effort cannoned back off the near post.
It seemed nothing could keep Gallas out of the action. He had the ball in Dynamo's net on the stroke of half-time but his shot was correctly ruled out for offside. After almost being in the right place at the right time, Gallas was the fall-guy early in the second half. Van Persie's shot appeared to be creeping in until Gallas inadvertently blocked it in the six-yard block.
There was still no sign of Arsenal taking control of the match though and long range efforts from Bangoura and Aliyev only emphasised the need for a quick improvement. Artem Milevskiy should have given Dynamo the lead with 12 minutes left when he found himself with just Manuel Almunia to beat, but the Arsenal keeper saved his side with a brave block.
Just as Arsenal looked to have run out of ideas, Fabregas provided the moment of inspiration they had been lacking in the 87th minute. He unleashed a superb long pass that picked out Bendtner and allowed the substitute to gallop clear and smash his shot past Bogush.
That triggered a Dynamo meltdown and Aliyev was sent off after shoving referee Hamer while trying to take a quick free-kick.