Football: Greeks' late goal sends Arsenal tumbling out

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The Independent Online
Arsenal 1

PAOK Salonika 1

(PAOK win 2-1 on aggregate)

Arsenal's European ambition disintegrated in one awful moment three minutes from the end of last night's Uefa Cup first round tie. With the teams appearing set for extra time following the first-half goal by Dennis Bergkamp which had levelled the score on aggregate, the visiting centre- forward, Zissis Vrizas, advanced on the Arsenal defence and rounded Tony Adams and Steve Bould before shooting low past David Seaman.

It was PAOK's only genuine chance of the game, but the 23-year-old Greek international took it with utter composure - something which Arsenal, notwithstanding Bergkamp's exceptional early effort, lacked.

Thus, for the second year running, Arsenal have departed the Uefa Cup at the first hurdle. It turned out to be a miserable anniversary for Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, who had taken over at the club exactly a year earlier.

"It is a huge disappointment," Wenger said, "but I think I knew after the first leg that it would be very difficult."

The north Londoners were denied the presence of Bergkamp on that torrid occasion because of his fear of air travel. But the second leg, watched by a crowd of 37,982, was dominated by the enterprise he has displayed all season.

His goal after 22 minutes was a customary wonder as he picked up a forward ball from Adams in the inside-right position and glided ahead, tempting Nikos Kolobourdas into a rash tackle, drifting around him and driving the ball low past the keeper's right hand.

All so easy. But the Premiership leaders, looking increasingly weary in what was their fourth game in 10 days, could not do it again. That was due in no small part to an inspired display by the visiting keeper, Nikos Mihopoulos, who repulsed a succession of Arsenal efforts with methods of varying technical correctness.

Bergkamp was at the heart of everything for the home side, testing Mihopoulos on several occasions and setting up a succession of chances. The best, perhaps, fell to Ian Wright after 79 minutes. His fierce shot from Bergkamp's pull-back was deflected away from the net by the backtracking PAOK captain, Theodoros Zagorakis.

But it finished as a memorable night for PAOK, making their first appearance on English soil in what was their first European campaign since the five- year ban imposed on them following crowd trouble at their charmingly named home ground, the Toumba.

Their supporters were vociferous throughout. As the stadium emptied of home supporters, they celebrated hugely.

Afterwards, Wenger looked like a cat that had seen a mouse escape. "There were three of our defenders against one for their goal," he said. "It didn't look dangerous at the start. I don't know exactly what happened. I will have to look at it on the video."

The Uefa Cup, with its potential financial input, has gone for another season, and there was only faint solace for Wenger - not so many games this season. It might yet prove important.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Platt, 75); Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Platt, Anelka, Manninger (gk), Hughes, Garde, Boa Morte, Marshall.

PAOK Salonika (4-4-2) Mihopoulos; Zagorakis, Tasiopoulos, Kolobourdas, Olivares; Toursounidis, Nagbe, Zafiriou (Sidiropoulos, 33), Velis; Frantzeskos, Vrizas. Substitutes not used: Kapetanopoulos, Cominges, Katsouris, Zoumboulis, Argiriou, Kafes.

Referee M Piraus (Belgium).