Arsenal hope for Wenger and a prayer

Arsenal 2 Borussia Monchengladbach 3
Click to follow
The Independent Online
As Arsene Wenger wrestled with the problems of escaping from Japan, it will be of little comfort to know that the opportunities for foreign travel when he finally arrives at Highbury are likely to be limited.

Borussia Monchengladbach thoroughly deserve to return to Germany with a one-goal advantage after last night's Uefa Cup first-round first leg, and if Arsenal are to advance any further, they will need to produce a fightback which, on this evidence, is beyond them. Just when Wenger, the Arsenal manager-elect, will arrive at Highbury has yet to be decided. His present club, Grampus Eight of Japan, are keen for him to complete his two-year contract, which expires in January. For now, Stewart Houston remains the Gunners' caretaker-manager.

That the visitors were in London looking for more than just a draw and a little sightseeing was evident from the kick-off. Stefan Effenberg lined up alongside Andrzej Juskowiak to form a two-man forward line. Effenberg has been linked to Arsenal in recent weeks, and if last night's performance was his idea of a job application, it was too persuasive by half for home fans. As early as the 13th minute his instinctive pass found Juskowiak by the penalty spot, and though his shot was easily claimed by David Seaman, it served as a warning.

Arsenal enjoyed much of the subsequent play, but were unable to find a telling pass or sufficient composure in front of goal. The loss of Dennis Bergkamp after 18 minutes further reduced their options, though Ian Wright brought a fine one-handed save from Uwe Kamps after 21 minutes, and John Hartson was unlucky to have his shot rebound off a post into the keeper's hands 15 minutes later.

Paul Merson attempted to lob the keeper when a shot would have been better advised shortly afterwards, and the lesson in finishing which Arsenal clearly required was not long in arriving. With an uncharacteristic lack of defensive discipline, three red shirts rushed to close down Peter Nielsen on the edge of the box. Instead of a shot, his simple ball sprang Juskowiak through the off-side trap and his side-foot shot past Seaman was a formality.

Worse followed within a minute of the restart. Andy Linighan's feeble attempt to clear his line as Effenberg closed in let the striker slide on towards goal, a mistake compounded by Seaman's failure to hold his first shot. Effenburg made no mistake with his second. Highbury was stunned, but rediscovered its voice within five minutes when Paul Merson curled a shot past Kamps from 20 yards. Arsenal's third recovery from a two-goal deficit in as many matches was almost completed 10 minutes later when Wright, put through by Merson, placed a careful shot past Kamps which shaved the wrong side of the post.

By now, Effenberg was often a lone and neglected figure up front, though still capable of holding play up when Borussia did venture forward. Mostly, the visitors were content to defend in numbers, confident that Arsenal's attractive approach rarely developed into a serious threat. Glenn Helder, in particular, was guilty of several wasteful crosses from the left when strikers were waiting in the middle.

The lack of invention up front was bad enough, but Arsenal's frailty at the back was unforgivable. Opponents in European competition are not noted for their charity, and the home side's humiliation was complete with nine minutes remaining.

Christian Hochstatter's free-kick from the left appeared to be dropping amid three defenders, but Stefan Passlack rose above them all to head home. Wright's consolation goal two minutes from time will surely make little difference to the ultimate outcome of the tie.

Arsenal (4-3-1-2): Seaman; Winterburn, Linighan, Keown, Dixon; Merson, Platt, Parlour (Bould, 79); Bergkamp (Helder, 18); Wright, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Morrow, Shaw, Lukic (gk).

Borussia Monchengladbach (4-4-2): Kamps; Andersson, Neun, Fournier, Passlack; Hochstatter, Lupescu, Schneider, Nielsen (Wynhoff, 73); Juskowiak (Kastenmaier, 85), Effenberg. Substitutes not used: Stadler, Villa, Kaessmam (gk).

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).

More reports, results, page 25

Comments