Football: Wenger sees hope despite first defeat

PAOK Salonika 1 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online
Arsenal suffered their first defeat of the season but returned from Greece with their Uefa Cup ambitions still more or less intact in spite of a grilling from PAOK in a frenzied first round first leg match here last night.

Despite a bright start it was a disappointing performance from Arsene Wenger's side, though the goal that beat them, in the 61st minute, looked suspiciously offside. Yellow cards for Ian Wright, Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira completed an unfortunate night for the visitors.

"I cannot say I am pleased but the task now is not impossible," Wenger said afterwards. "We came here to score goals and when it does not happen it is always disappointing, but our defeat was for physical reasons rather than tactical ones."

Astonishing scenes greeted Arsenal when they arrived at the Toumbas Stadium. Around 40,000 Greek fans had practically filled the arena which was ablaze with noise and colour two hours before the kick-off. The good news for the Londoners was that their Dutch winger Marc Overmars passed a late fitness test on a groin injury and Tony Adams was fit to lead the side.

Overmars showed early promise down the left and Ray Parlour was also an early threat on the other flank, but Nicolas Anelka, making his full debut in place of Dennis Bergkamp, was seldom on the same wavelength as Wright and Arsenal struggled to achieve much consistency with their build- up.

Gradually PAOK took a stranglehold and Adams and Steve Bould, had to work tirelessly to stem the flow. Konstantinos Frantzeskos showed his expertise from set pieces to good effect just before the half hour with curving drive from a free-kick that David Seaman parried on to a post.

Soon after the break Overmars and Wright wasted two good chances, and the visitors paid the price just after the hour when PAOK scored the game's only goal. Achilleas Zafiriou put Frantzeskos clear inside the box and his shot went straight between Seaman's legs.

PAOK Salonika: Mihopoulos; Olivares, Tasiopoulos, Kolobourdis, Zafiriou, Zagorakis, Frantzeskos, Vrizas (Kapetanopoulos, 59), Toursounidis (Sidiropoulos, 72), Nagbe (Velis, 75), Zoumpouris. Substitutes not used: Katsouris, Argiriou, Kassis, Nastos (gk).

Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Adams, Wright, Anelka (Wreh, 75), Overmars (Boa Morte, 70), Parlour (Platt, 70), Petit. Substitutes not used: Upson, Marshall, Garde, Manninger (gk).

Referee: M Diaz Vega (Spain).

l Jorg Albertz's 49th-minute spot kick gave Rangers what could prove a vital away goal as they lost their Uefa Cup first round first leg tie to RC Strasbourg 2-1, with both the French side's goals coming from penalties by Gerald Baticle.

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