Football: Henry and Suker help Arsenal surpass Solna

Arsenal 3 AIK Solna 1
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The Independent Online
HOW THE Swedish champions AIK Solna must wish that fat lady would start singing just a couple of minutes earlier. For the second successive week in the Champions' League they were beaten by two goals right at the death, in this case by the substitute Thierry Henry and Davor Suker, after threatening to steal a point from more fancied members of Group B.

Last week in Stockholm it was Barcelona who scored in the 88th and 90th minutes to start their programme with a victory, which they built on by defeating Fiorentina last night to take a two-point lead in the section. At Wembley, a cold, damp second home for Arsenal in the previous campaign, the critical goals came even later.

The fourth official had just indicated four minutes of added time when Arsene Wenger's team, pegged back by a second-half equaliser after establishing total control before the interval, launched what looked like a last, desperate fling. Nigel Winterburn's high ball forward was nudged on by Suker, Nwankwo Kanu, lying on the ground, dug the ball out and prodded it square for Henry to drive in.

The Swedes, already deflated, collapsed completely two minutes later as Alex Manninger punched out a corner and Dennis Bergkamp sent Henry away to unselfishly set up Suker for a tap-in and three invaluable points. So Arsenal remain in touch with the double-header against Barcelona to come next.

Wenger, looking as phlegmatic as ever, said: "At this level, most games are decided in the last five or 10 minutes when teams are tired. We were a bit sluggish in the second half, but we never gave up."

The manager's opposite number, the Wolverhampton-born Stuart Baxter, must wonder what to say to his charges when he finally catches up with them - possibly something about a match lasting 95 minutes. Banned from the touchline and from all contact with the team after his outburst when Barcelona equalised in Sweden as he was trying to make a substitution, the former Preston North End journeyman was forced to watch proceedings from the Royal Box.

It was painful viewing for him for 45 minutes as Arsenal produced as impressive a performance as in Florence, with a greater proportion of their scoring chances threatening the goalkeeper. Mattias Asper, who recently kept a clean sheet in 12 successive games, was forced to make two excellent saves in the first quarter of the match from Bergkamp and could do nothing about Fredrick Ljungberg's goal in the 27th minute. Bergkamp came deep again, then played in Ljungberg for a cool finish against his compatriots.

A floated attempt that looked suspiciously like a cross and landed on top of the net by Andreas Andersson, AIK's record signing at pounds 2m from Newcastle, was their only vaguely threatening moment before the break.

Whoever was giving the Swedish team-talk, however, had clearly done a good job. As the visitors pressed forward for almost the first time in any numbers, Krister Nordin, their captain, who had spent most of his time patrolling in front of his team's back four, suddenly materialised just outside the other penalty area; moving on to Ola Andersson's shrewd pass, he slipped the ball past Manninger as Winterburn was caught in classic Arsenal defensive mode, arm upraised appealing for an offside decision that he had negated by stepping out a fraction behind his colleagues.

Wenger went for broke in sending on Kanu and Henry, and was rewarded, albeit later than he would have liked. Stirred up once more, though without regaining their former control, Arsenal were unfortunate when Martin Keown headed Bergkamp's free-kick against the bar, the rebound just eluding Kanu. There was no excuse for Henry's wasteful finish nine minutes from time, side-footing wide from eight yards, but he was to emerge as the hero of the night after all.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Ljungberg (Henry, 68), Vieira, Grimandi (Silvinho, 55), Overmars (Kanu, 68); Bergkamp, Suker. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Vivas, Luzhny, Upson.

AIK Solna (4-1-3-2): Asper; Kamark (Kjolo, h-t), Ljung, Brundin, Gustafsson; Nordin; Lagerlof, O Andersson (Corneliusson, 88), Tjernstrom; A Andersson, Novakovic (Aslund, 81). Substitutes not used: Baxter (gk), Bergh, Mattiasson, Johansson.

Referee: V Pereira (Portugal).

European round-up, page 30