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4 Agustus 2008

Adebayor starts battle to win back supporters' hearts by downing Real

Much more of this and Arsenal supporters will quickly rediscover their affection for Emmanuel Adebayor. Having been booed on Saturday for the mixed messages he gave out before agreeing to sign a new contract, the Togolese yesterday capped an impressive individual performance with the only goal of the game to defeat Real Madrid. It was a telling contribution and one that suggests it will not take long to repair his relationship with the fans.
There might also have been a wonderful coup de grâce but a mesmerising second-half run that left three Real Madrid defenders trailing culminated in a stabbed shot which slipped only inches wide of Jerzy Dudek's far post. It was not to be but the applause Adebayor received as he left the field moments later provided evidence that his mischievous behaviour in the summer, when he appeared to be inviting interest from Barcelona, is fast fading from memory.
"He felt that people had questioned his commitment a little bit and the best answer is always to play well on the pitch," said Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, whose side finished third in the Emirates Cup behind Real and the winners, Hamburg. "You play well and show that you are ready to fight for the shirt and for your team. You know how it is - if you score goals people forget the frustration quickly."
Adebayor, who made a point of kissing the club badge after he converted from the penalty spot following Míchel Salgado's foul on Robin van Persie, claimed that he was winning over the supporters' hearts. "No matter what you are, no matter what you have done, some of the fans will love you and some of the fans will hate you," said the forward. "But I hope I'm in a good situation. Most of the fans love me and that's the most important thing."
While Adebayor stole the show, Theo Walcott also caught the eye with an effervescent display on the right flank. The teenager might not have developed as quickly as some had envisaged but Wenger suggested afterwards that the winger could be a key figure next season. "He's ahead of what he was doing this time last year," said Wenger. "His first touch is better, he moves the ball quicker and his penetration and final ball is better."
Wenger was not so comfortable discussing his transfer targets and, while he mentioned that he admires Gareth Barry, he also revealed "at the moment I am not on his case". Xabi Alonso appears to be a more plausible target with central midfield, allowing for the absence of the rested Cesc Fábregas and the injured Tomas Rosicky, the one department where Arsenal looked a little short during their deserved victory over Real.
Abou Diaby and Denilson took the two central positions here with the former involved in a clumsy challenge on the Real substitute Wesley Sneijder that caused the Dutchman to be taken from the field on a stretcher. Bernd Schuster, the Real coach, fears that Sneijder may have suffered cruciate ligament damage. "We're all really shocked about the injury and the truth is right now it's very difficult," he said. "He's got a lot of pain; they have to do tests but it doesn't look good."
Neither did Real's performance for long periods. Arsenal, with their fluent movement and incisive passing, ought to have secured a far more comfortable margin of victory as Walcott and Samir Nasri sparkled. "I've learned a lot about my squad," added Wenger.