Football: Keown provides killer touch

Champions' League: Arsenal 2 Panathinaikos 1 ;Defenders turn strikers as Adams sets Arsenal on road to Greek triumph
Click to follow
The Independent Online
HIGHBURY OR Wembley, it appears to make no difference to Arsenal. Unbeaten at their normal home since last December, they recorded a third victory in five months at the national stadium last night, this time following the FA Cup final and Charity Shield with a place at the top of the Champions' League Group E to .

Not since the 1991 FA Cup semi-final against Spurs have Arsenal lost there. There was never any great danger of defeat last night, although Arsenal did have a flat patch on either side of half-time and were forced to endure a nervous last couple of minutes after Panathinaikos's Brazilian substitute, Mauro, was allowed to head in when surrounded by red shirts. Arsene Wenger's team held on to achieve the victory that was essential to their hopes of qualifying, after being held to a 1-1 draw in Lens. The same scoreline in the French champions' trip to Dynamo Kiev last night left Arsenal in pole position with four points, one ahead of Panathinaikos, who had surprisingly beaten Kiev in Athens.

A record Arsenal home crowd of 73,455 had to suffer a 25-minute delay before kick-off after an accident at King's Cross Underground station, then wait over an hour for two goals in quick succession from Tony Adams and Martin Keown.

Relying on defenders to score is not something that even Arsenal will want to perpetuate and the failure of either Dennis Bergkamp or Nicolas Anelka - one goal between them this season - to find the net was one of two negative aspects to a vibrant evening.

The other was a yellow card for Patrick Vieira, his second in successive European ties, which means he will miss the match at home to Kiev later this month.

Victory in that game will leave Arsenal strongly placed and Wenger was understandably satisfied overall with the night's work. "It was a difficult game against a technically good side," he said. "They were maybe not a big threat up front but were very good at keeping the ball in midfield. We always looked like the team who would win it.

"It looks at the moment as if there is no real favourite in the group because for me, Kiev were favourites, but now they've failed to win at home after losing away."

Wenger was upset about the delayed kick-off which was announced after 7.30pm when his players were already in the tunnel. "I couldn't understand why they told us so late," he said.

Despite the nervous wait, Arsenal had little difficulty settling down in what is, after all, virtually a second home, and created good opportunities from the earliest stages. In only the third minute, a foul on Patrick Vieira drew a free-kick that Dennis Bergkamp curled towards the far post. Tony Adams stole in unnoticed, but opted for the lowest of diving headers rather than a volley and sent the ball wide.

For half an hour, their own efforts brought nothing more than a wild shot by Nikos Liberopoulos after 19 minutes. There were warnings for Arsenal, however, in a much more threatening 25-yard drive from Andreas Lagonikakis that David Seaman was happy to turn over the bar, and then a volley from Liberopoulos following a neat exchange with Frank Strandli, the former Leeds United player.

The first half ended with an extraordinary escape for the Greeks after Bergkamp's back-heel had put Marc Overmars in for a shot that the goalkeeper parried. Vieira followed up from only a few yards out but two defenders on the line, almost sitting on the ball, somehow kept it out between them.

As expected Ray Parlour had failed to recover from an ankle injury sustained amid the mayhem at Hillsborough on Saturday. Instead of bringing in the young Englishman Stephen Hughes, Arsenal went for Remi Garde, 10 years his senior, who at one time had decided to retire at the end of last season. Now he found himself in a midfield full of French internationals, standing shoulder to Gallic shoulder with Vieira and Petit.

Behind the rejuvenated Garde were the old guard, reunited in defence, with Seaman fit to resume in goal and Lee Dixon returning to the fray at right-back having served a suspension.

The thousands of Greeks in the ground were well satisfied with their team's first-half performance, judging by the volume of noise coming from their end. On the resumption, Panathinaikos succeeded in quelling the home side, whose supporters had to make a conscious effort to avoid being outshouted.

Arsenal's frustration was just beginning to show when Petit set up the decisive goals from two inswinging corners. Goalkeeper Josef Wandzik failed to reach the first, which Vieira drove square for Adams to volley in with his left foot.

His equally admirable partner Keown met the second with a smart header in off the post.

The goalscoring pair failed in their duties at the other end only once, allowing Mauro an 89th-minute consolation goal.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Garde (Vivas, 79), Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Anelka, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Bould, Wreh, Hughes, Grimandi, Mendez.

Panathinaikos (3-5-2): Wandzik; Goumas, Milojevic, Kostantinidis; Kiassos (Kola, 70), Apostolakis, Asanovic, Mykland, Lagonikakis; Liberopoulos (Mauro, 83), Strandli (Sypniewski, 83). Substitutes not used: Nikopolidis (gk), Kolitsidakis, Vokolos.

Referee: A Lopez Nieto (Spain).