Football: Arsenal's static exposed by Dynamo

Another draw conceded by another late goal has threatened the Gunners' hopes of progress in Europe.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE GASP from 73,000 Arsenal supporters at Wembley on Wednesday night when Manchester United's result against Brondby was announced matched the one a couple of minutes earlier as Dynamo Kiev equalised in stoppage time. It was like taking two blows of equal ferocity to the solar plexus, with no time to recover in between.

Never mind that Arsenal should have been out for the count by then, so comprehensively had they been outmanoeuvred. Suddenly that popular little ditty about how much Teddy Sheringham has won since leaving north London for Manchester did not seem quite so apposite; and suddenly Dennis Bergkamp was not the only one with a fear of flying to Ukraine next month.

What the two English clubs now have in common, as well as one win and two draws from their opening three Champions' League games, is that they are involved in the tightest groups of the six. Two home wins in the next round of Arsenal's section would give the Greek side, Panathinaikos, six points and everyone else five. A high proportion of draws in a group also means that only the winners will qualify.

It may be all the more infuriating that Arsenal have now surrendered four points to Lens and Kiev by conceding a goal in stoppage time, but, unlike the game in France, the English champions this time did not deserve even the draw. Dynamo lived up to their name, creating electric currents of movement all around them in a manner reminiscent of their former countrymen, Spartak Moscow, who once dazzled Highbury in beating Terry Neill's Arsenal 5-2 in the Uefa Cup.

Wednesday's performance was a triumph for the veteran Kiev coach, Valery Lobanovsky, who, according to some, believes in football controlled by computers and played by robots. Some robots. Barry Town, the Welsh champions, beaten 8-0 in the Olympic Stadium in July, could have corrected that misapprehension.

The quality of their play made their defeat in Athens and draw at home to Lens all the more difficult to comprehend. That inconsistency offers Arsenal hope ahead of the return game next month.

Another plus would be the availability of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, the French axis, in the critical area of centre-midfield, where Stephen Hughes and Remi Garde were overwhelmed by runners flooding into the gaps left as the strikers, Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov, pushed out to wide positions.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, was being generous in the extreme in praising Hughes and Garde for their efforts. The London camp had obviously decided to pursue a course of positive thinking. "We scored a great goal," Wenger said. "At 1-0 up, we could have killed the game."

"It's not as though we're going to Barcelona or Real Madrid," said his captain, Tony Adams, possibly forgetting that last season Dynamo beat Barcelona 4-0 in the Nou Camp and 3-0 at home.

Bergkamp, immovable in his refusal ever to board another aeroplane, also has to believe that his team-mates can succeed in Ukraine. "I won't be going, but I've no sense of guilt over it," he said. "I'm disappointed people are still asking me this question - Arsenal have known about it for more than three years and have accepted it.

"Some players miss games through injury or suspension and in this case it's something else. But that's how it is. I know two of our last three games are away, but with the quality of teams in this competition, I don't think it matters so much. I believe our players can handle it."

Positive thinking or wishful dreaming? What is certain is that Bergkamp - who as well as his goal on Wednesday was booked for deliberately handling a cross - has under-performed in just about every group match so far and owes the team a convincing performance in the remaining home game against Lens.

Comments