LUCK AND pluck were Arsenal's requirements as they entered the court of King Louis last night and both were much in evidence as they overcame a first-half mauling and the second-half dismissal of Gilles Grimandi to gain a vital Champions' League point.
Having gone behind to Luis Enrique's 15th-minute goal they ought to have been out of the game by half-time, but survived to thrive when Nwankwo Kanu drove in a rebound with 10 minutes remaining.
The goal, which came seconds after Grimandi had been sent off for elbowing Josep Guardiola, left Louis van Gaal, Barcelona's coach and Kanu's mentor at Ajax, bemoaning his side's fortune. Arsenal will point, however, to their failure to gain a deserved win over Fiorentina a fortnight ago and argue they were due a little luck. That it was Kanu, the culprit with a late penalty miss in Florence, who scored was particularly apt.
With Fiorentina held to a goalless draw by AIK Solna last night, Arsenal reach the mid-point in Group B with a three-point qualifying cushion and what should be their two toughest matches behind them.
"Our fate is in our hands but it lies at Wembley where we have to perform to go through," said Arsene Wenger. Indeed, Arsenal's next game is against Barcelona at Wembley on 19 October. It will be Barcelona's first at the stadium since beating Sampdoria there to win this competition in 1992.
"I think this will prove to be a good result after we have had the second match," said Van Gaal, who brusquely dismissed suggestions that Arsenal had been his team's most difficult opponents this season.
With Arsenal incurring five bookings (Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Davor Suker) as well as Grimandi's dismissal, and Wenger suggesting that some were due to Barcelona players "diving", it is likely to be another charged occasion.
Last night's match was a slow burner, partly because Barcelona were so dominant in the opening half, but it rose in temperature especially after Suker, once of Real Madrid, came on. It was his shot which Ruud Hesp failed to hold before Kanu forced home the rebound for the equaliser and Wenger said: "With his [good] record against Barcelona I think he helped to unsettle their defence.
"They were technically perfect in the first half but in the second half, when we pushed higher up the field, it really was all us," added Wenger. "Then you saw the great Arsenal spirit."
Arsenal began well, pushing forward to win a brace of early corners, but were then penned back as Barcelona, using the full width of the vast Nou Camp pastures, dragged the yellow-shirted visitors hither and thither like kites fluttering in the wind.
The onslaught started in the eighth minute with Alex Manninger beating away an effort from the Portuguese international Luis Figo. From the resultant corner Lee Dixon kicked a Rivaldo header off the line then Adams blocked a goalbound Frank de Boer header.
The defence looked uncertain and Manninger's handling decidedly shaky. Winston Bogarde wasted a free header and Manninger escaped after shovelling out a Figo shot, but then he failed to hold a bobbling Philip Cocu drive and, as Vieira hesitated, Luis Enrique followed up to bundle the ball home.
With attacks rolling in, Arsenal dug in to hang on. Staunch defending, especially by Adams, and a brilliant save by Manninger from Rivaldo, enabled them to reach half- time without further loss. With Wenger asking them to be "more audacious" they re-emerged with fresh intent, Grimandi bringing the first save from the Dutch goalkeeper Hesp and Bergkamp flashing a fierce shot across the face of the goal.
The tiny knot of Arsenal fans, packed into a wedge of seats so vertiginously high it seemed nearer the Gods than the pitch, were further encouraged when Wenger brought on Thierry Henry and, to a fusillade of boos, Suker, who responded by fouling Guar-diola, a local darling, with his first touch.
Suker continued to niggle and it was no surprise when he was booked for a foul on Bogarde, but this foolishness was nothing compared to the stupidity that followed as Grimandi, angered by a particularly heavy challenge by Guardiola, elbowed him as the pair got up - in full view of the referee.
The red card appeared to affect Barcelona's concentration most, however, and, a minute later, Kanu pounced.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Hesp; Reiziger (R De Boer, 69), F de Boer, Bogarde, Sergi; Cocu, Guardiola, Enrique (Litmanen, 77); Figo, Dani, Rivaldo. Substitutes not used: Arnau, Abelardo, Kluivert, Xavi.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour (Henry, 73), Grimandi, Vieira, Overmars (Ljungberg, 79); Bergkamp (Suker, 73,), Kanu. Substitutes not used: Seaman, Silvinho, Luzhny, Upson.
Referee: M Merk (Germany).Reuse content