Football: Dynamo expose Arsenal's flaws

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The Independent Online
WHAT DO Dynamo Kiev and Sheffield Wednesday have in common? Unlikely as it may seem, they are the only teams to have beaten Arsenal this season.

Whether defeat in Ukraine or Yorkshire eventually proves the more costly may become a question of priorities. Arsene Wenger has always insisted - unlike Alex Ferguson - that his is the Premiership. He remains optimistically convinced, however, that losing 3-1 on Wednesday night as Kiev made up for their misfortune in being held to a draw at Wembley in the previous game leaves his team's prospects of qualifying for the quarter-finals "good".

As Wenger burnt the midnight oil assessing the result - it was well into Thursday morning local time before Arsenal's bus left the saturated Olympic Stadium - it was easy to imagine all three other coaches in this most delicately balanced of the six Champions' League groups insistently using the same adjective. The margins are so thin that Arsenal tumbled from top to bottom in 90 minutes, with a defeat that was so difficult to predict even before their captain, Steve Bould, himself standing in for the injured Tony Adams, was forced out of the game with a hamstring injury with the score still only 1-0. The absence of Dennis Bergkamp and Nicolas Anelka in attack on Wednesday and of the French pair Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit from the Wembley match constituted extenuating circumstances, but in the former case could also be seen as an indictment of Wenger's failure to replace Ian Wright once it was decided that he could leave Highbury last summer.

As Manchester United and others have demonstrated - indeed, as Arsenal themselves did last season - three proven strikers are now a minimum requirement rather than a luxury for any seriously ambitious club, and Christopher Wreh does not yet come into that category.

That Kiev's goalkeeper, Alexander Shovkovskyi, made two or three good saves does not mean that the English champions deserved to emerge from two matches on equal terms. Because they failed to do so, Dynamo would be placed above them, regardless of goal difference, if the teams were to finish level on points. Arsenal's other problem is that this group is now highly unlikely to be one of the two from which two clubs will qualify.

As for the famous five in defence, for all their wonderful service, they are now growing old at the same time, increasing the likelihood of injuries as well as some inevitable loss of pace. Having to push Gilles Grimandi on for 45 minutes against strikers as gifted as Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov underlined that cover is as thin at the back as in attack.

Nothing can be done about that before the final group matches at home to Lens in three weeks' time and away to Panathinaikos, who lead the table although they are only one point better off than Arsenal.

Wenger left Kiev believing that a case of mistaken identity would allow Petit, who should have received a yellow card on Wednesday, to play against their fellow countrymen at Wembley. Nigel Winterburn was wrongly booked instead of the Frenchman, who had been cautioned in an earlier fixture.

Yesterday a Uefa spokeswoman said: "The first thing is that we will receive the reports of the referee, the Uefa observer and our other delegates at the match. If there is any confusion, we would then have to have a complaint from one the clubs before the disciplinary committee considers watching a video." It is understood that available TV film does not clarify the incident which occurred in the 37th minute, when Rebrov was brought down.

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