Football: Arsenal on the spot after their failure to finish

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The Independent Online
THE HOME of the Renaissance would have been an appropriate place for the rebirth of Arsenal as a force in European football. As it was, Tuesday night's goalless draw in Florence will only go down as a significant moment in the greater scheme of things if future results more accurately reflect the quality of performance.

That quality was not strained and would have been properly rewarded if Fredrik Ljungberg, early on, Tony Adams and, above all, Nwankwo Kanu with his late penalty had finished more precisely. The Nigerian's method is to wait for the goalkeeper to commit himself, and roll the ball the other way, which worked in the Charity Shield against Manchester United and at home to Bradford recently, but looked foolish when Fiorentina's long- limbed Italian international Francesco Toldo moved (illegally) forward as well as sideways before the kick was patted gently towards him.

As Davor Suker has also failed badly from the spot (at Liverpool) and Dennis Berg-kamp, since setting up United for the treble by missing in the last minute of the FA Cup semi-final, now steps up to the stop as willingly as he steps on to an aeroplane, Arsenal need Kanu to restore his self-belief as soon as possible: at whatever stage he plays at Southampton on Saturday, it would be in the national interest for the referee immediately to award the London side a penalty.

Fiorentina's wily veteran coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, was not just playing psychological games when he said: "They missed a penalty and they may pay for it later." He was right, as was his assessment that: "Arsenal deserved to win. We were poor and were lucky to come away from the game with anything."

The visitors' domination of the second half, in particular, was impressive against a side greatly strengthened since finishing third in Serie A last season. Martin Keown was the undoubted winner in an engrossing battle with Gabriel Batistuta as Arsenal smothered the home side's three-man attack with assurance.

Patrick Vieira just shaded Marc Overmars as the outstanding figure in midfield, though his evening was marred by a fifth yellow card of the season. If this one was harsh, the Frenchman has every reason to be grateful that suspensions from the Champions' League now come after three cards rather than two. At this rate, he will be banned just as his compatriot and running-mate Emmanuel Petit is fit to resume duty alongside him.

Petit may not be ready for the daunting visit in a fortnight's time to Barcelona, who have already stolen a march on the rest of Group B. By all accounts they also dominated away to AIK Solna, yet put the ball in the net twice in the last four minutes to top the section, with home games to come against Fiorentina next week and then Arsenal, who meet Stuart Baxter's Swedes at Wembley on Wednesday. "It was a positive night," said Arsene Wenger of the opening game. A more positive outcome is essential against AIK if there is to be a genuine rebirth of the Gunners.

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