Football: Winterburn thunderbolt caps Arsenal late show

Arsenal 3 Nantes 0

ARSENAL WENT home for European competition last night, only to find London N5 almost as frustrating for much of the time as Wembley, Middlesex had been. In the Uefa Cup - hereinafter the European Cup-Losers' Cup - victory is not everything and even against 10 men they had nothing more than a penalty by Marc Overmars to encourage them until the last eight minutes. Then goals by Nigel Winterburn and Dennis Bergkamp provided a more comfortable cushion for the second leg of this third-round tie in Brittany.

Not that Arsenal should take either armchairs or deckchairs with them. A young Nantes side described by Arsene Wenger as the best technical team in France, though they are 12th in the table, certainly have enough skill, if not the power, to make life difficult on their own territory. Until having the defender Jean-Marc Chanelet unnecessarily sent off after an hour, they kept three men in advanced positions, interchanging cleverly and occasionally threatening an away goal.

Wenger said: "It was a weird game. You could see our minds were not completely focused on this competition yet."

Although giving a rare opportunity to Patrick Vieira, who is in the middle of a long domestic suspension, the tie also brought a recurrence of the knee injury that has bugged his countryman and midfield partner Emmanuel Petit for much of the season. Petit hobbled off before half-time and is highly unlikely to appear against Derby County on Sunday, when Fredrik Ljungberg, as well as Vieira, will be banned. Thus the incompatibility of domestic and modern drawn-out European campaigns continues to be illustrated.

It was Petit who made the initial breakthrough possible after 15 minutes in which Arsenal had achieved little. His astute pass for Nwankwo Kanu was dangerous enough for Medhi Leroy to lunge in with a tackle that sent the Nigerian crashing painfully to the ground. Overmars's kick allowed the Nantes captain, Mickael Landreau, to get both hands to the ball without being able to keep it out of his net.

The Dutchman, scorer of a hat-trick against Middlesbrough last Saturday, might have had a second goal within minutes. He was set up beautifully by Vieira, drawing the goalkeeper and then lobbing over a defender's head, but Nicolas Savinaud was able to clear off the line.

Hassan Ahamada, sent away by Eric Carriere for a shot that fizzed past the far post, then failing to hit the target from an even better opportunity, might have punished Arsenal's casualness. It was the striker's last contribution, for soon afterwards he felt the full weight of a Winterburn tackle and disappeared on a stretcher.

Nantes also paid a heavy penalty for a foul by Chanelet on Overmars after 60 minutes. Having already received one yellow card, for time-wasting at a throw-in, he was dismissed and their objective thereafter was simply to hold out.

After Nicolas Gillet's goal-line clearance from Davor Suker, they looked like doing so until Winterburn thrashed a 25-yard shot past Landreau and Bergkamp slipped on to Overmars's pass to complete a flattering final margin.

The ghosts of two unsuccessful Wembley campaigns have not yet been laid.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Vivas, Grimandi, Adams, Winterburn; Ljungberg (Henry, 70), Vieira, Petit (Parlour, 38), Overmars; Bergkamp, Kanu (Suker, 70). Substitutes not used: Malz, Luzhny, Upson, Manninger (gk).

Nantes (4-3-1-2): Landreau; Deroff (Olembre, 42), Savinaud, Chanelet, Gillet; Carriere, Piocelle, Leroy; Sibierski; Ahamada (Toure, 53), Monterrubio (Gope-Fenepej, 70). Substitutes not used: Devineau, Mace, Aristouy, Grondin (gk).

Referee: D Koren (Israel).

n Benfica suffered their record European defeat when they were thrashed 7-0 by Celta Vigo in their Uefa Cup third-round first-leg game in Spain. Before last night the Portuguese club's biggest defeat in Europe was a 5-0 beating at Borussia Dortmund in the European Cup in 1963-64.

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