Arsenal 0 CSKA Moscow 0: Misfiring Arsenal face battle to qualify

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The Independent Online

A game of Russian roulette at Arsenal last night - and one almost as crazy. Time and again CSKA Moscow had the trigger pulled against them; time and again the chamber was found to be empty. Countless chances were spurned with increasing, maddening regularity. Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie and the otherwise immaculate Tomas Rosicky will have been the uneasiest of sleepers.

Quite how Rosicky contrived to side-foot into the arms of the visitors' goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, in the first half and quite how the closest Henry came to scoring was to turn the ball against his own post from a CSKA corner in the dying seconds no one, frankly, can understand.

Certainly not Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger. He admitted that he had no explanation after seeing his side spurn the clearest of opportunities to take control of Group G. The weirdness of it all was summed up when Wenger hailed the performance as the most impressive his team had turned in at home under him in this competition.

"For me it was the best Champions' League game we have played since I have been here," Wenger said. "It is frustrating. The normal score in a game like this is 7-0, maybe 7-1 because they missed a good chance as well. We created clear-cut chances, didn't take them and we dominated this Moscow team by miles. There was a division's difference between the two teams. Another day we score five. There were nine clear chances to win the game."

That really was no exaggeration against a CSKA side who, in fairness, came to attack, and have yet to concede a goal, and gave Arsenal the licence to do so themselves. Space opened up, the invitation was accepted with 24 shots at goal - but not fully taken. It was all the more galling because of Arsenal's defeat in Moscow two weeks ago and Henry's wrongly disallowed goal which would have garnered a point.

Instead, he was booked, and he was booked again last night inside the first minute when he launched himself at Yuri Zhirkov near the touchline. It fuelled his sense of injustice, which was also present in his programme notes which he used to berate the Arsenal fans for failing to sufficiently support their team - and for leaving the ground early.

Henry feeds on this sort of stuff and, on 17 minutes, Rosicky cleverly clipped a pass inside the CSKA defence for Gilberto Silva to sweep in a low cross to Henry... who side-footed wide. Despite the attentions of Vasili Berezutskiy he should have scored.

Before that and Van Persie had thumped a left-footed drive narrowly past a post and miscued when teed up by Alexander Hleb. Suddenly, the chances started to rack up. Twice Hleb cut through - once shooting, once passing when he should have gone on - and then Rosicky, orchestrating, smartly released Cesc Fabregas who rounded the goalkeeper only to wastefully shoot into the side-netting.

It was the same moments later. This time it was Hleb, running infield and slipping a pass through to Van Persie who, on the stretch, guided his shot into the advertising hoardings and not the net. On half-time Rosicky brilliantly flighted the ball through to Henry who flicked it beyond Akinfeev and, again, also beyond the post. It was agony for Arsenal and there was still time for Henry to dart through again and cut the ball back to Rosicky. With the goal gaping he made his astonishing miss.

Into the second half and there were fewer openings. But, as Arsenal charged on they were almost undone by a ball forward to Vagner Love who showed arresting pace to hold off William Gallas, a rare sight that, and charge into the area. His shot was held by Jens Lehmann after, initially, it appeared to have squirmed through.

Back came Arsenal. Henry collected Fabregas' long pass, skipped beyond his marker and chipped to the far post. Van Persie threw himself but it was he, rather than the ball, that found the back of the goal. Somehow the Dutch striker then headed wide when reaching Gallas' cross. The look of stunned disbelief was matched around the stadium. It was there again as Akinfeev clawed away Gilberto's header.

It was all the more disbelieving as CSKA won a corner which was whipped into the near post. Henry went to clear. Instead, the ball struck his standing leg - and rebounded on to the outside of the post. It was almost the most head-shaking moment on a bewildering night.

Afterwards and Wenger, so frustrated a figure on the touchline, had regained his composure. "What was funny was that the team was great, the crowd was great - and the result was bad," he said. It should not prove fatal, it must be hoped. But, after another draw at their new stadium, it remains an irritating worry. Wenger again talked about "potential" in his exciting young team. He needs to find a way of unlocking it.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Hoyte, Gallas, Touré, Clichy; Hleb (Walcott, 71), Gilberto, Fabregas (Flamini, 89), Rosicky; Henry, Van Persie (Aliadière, 82). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos, Song, Djourou.

CSKA Moscow (3-4-1-2): Akinfeev; V Berezutskiy, Semberas, A Berezutskiy; Ignashevich, Krasic (Aldonin, 40), Rahimic, Zhirkov; Dudu; Carvalho (Taranov, 90), Love (Olic, 85). Substitutes not used: Gabulov (gk), Odiah, Salugin, Grigoryev.

Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).

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