Arsenal 3 Hamburg 1: Arsenal's blushes spared by Eboué

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The Independent Football

In time, this may be seen as the night Arsenal finally said goodbye to Highbury and made themselves at home at the Emirates. Startled, and for a half becalmed, by conceding an early goal they and their fans ultimately roused themselves to evoke the noise and fury of the best European nights at the old arena. And, as so often at Highbury, their rally culminated in a dramatic late victory.

After Robin van Persie had cancelled out Rafael van der Vaart's third-minute strike, goals from Emmanuel Eboué and Julio Baptista, both set up by substitute Theo Walcott, ensured victory.

Arsenal's qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions' League remains in doubt, but they have a foot in the next stage. To be certain of progressing they must go to Porto on 6 December and gain at least a point, and do so without the suspended Thierry Henry. But, due to the head-to-head results between the three teams, a draw would put both teams through, with Arsenal topping the group, even if CSKA Moscow, the other side in the equation, win in Hamburg the same night. If Moscow, who lost at home to Porto yesterday, do not win in Germany, Arsenal will progress whatever the score in Portugal.

"Both teams will play to win, but if it finishes with a draw no one will be disappointed," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, his words accompanied by an enigmatic smile, of the forthcoming Porto tie. Wenger added, of last night's game: "It was the best atmosphere we have had here. The supporters played a big part. Psychologically, winning was important for the players. It will convince them not to make an obsession of conceding the first goal and thinking 'here we go again'."

When Van der Vaart, taking advantage of slack defending, whipped the ball over Jens Lehmann from 20 yards after three minutes it was the sixth time Arsenal had gone behind in 11 home games. Of the previous five, four had ended 1-1 and the only victory, against Croatia Zagreb, was made easier by Arsenal having a 3-0 first-leg advantage.

Unlike then there was real pressure last night and Arsenal did not respond well to falling behind. Aside from a 12th-minute shot by Alexander Hleb which hit the bar, and a pinball corner which ended with Mahdi Mahdavikia heading clear after Van Persie's shot was deflected goalwards off Kolo Touré, they did not threaten.

Arsenal emerged from the break with a greater sense of urgency. Four minutes into the half Touré, Hleb and Cesc Fabregas combined to release Van Persie to equalise. But, almost immediately, Arsenal's joy was soured as Henry incurred his third caution of the European campaign.

It was an infuriatingly unnecessary booking, Henry barging into Joris Mathijsen soon after the game restarted. The decision last month by another referee, in Moscow, when Henry was booked for "handball" after he looked to have scored a perfectly good equaliser against CSKA Moscow, thus became even more potentially ruinous for Arsenal.

Hamburg, who are having a dreadful season, had began to play like a decent side after scoring but conceding sapped their confidence and a red tide soon rolled towards their goal. Dogged defending kept Arsenal at bay but Hamburg's legs were tiring. It was time to add Walcott to the mix.

Nine minutes after his introduction, with Fabregas having hit the bar with a deflected shot from 30 yards in the interim, the teenager rolled the ball inside to Eboué. He drove into the box and beat Stefan Wachter from an unfeasibly tight angle.

With three minutes remaining Benny Feilhaber almost stilled the celebrations but Lehmann held his dangerous shot then launched an attack which led to Baptista heading in Walcott's cross for his first Arsenal goal. "I was not worried," insisted Wenger. "I saw the team refused to lose the game. Theo gave an injection of power and pace. Substitutions can work well in the Champions' League because teams give so much a fresh player can make a difference in the last 15 minutes."

Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Senderos, Clichy; Flamini; Hleb (Baptista, 81), Fabregas, Ljungberg (Walcott, 74), Van Persie (Adebayor, 69); Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Gilberto Silva, Hoyte, Djourou.

Hamburg (4-4-1-1): Waechter; Benjamin, Reinhardt, Mathijsen, Atouba (Ljuboja, 67); Mahdavikia (Feilhaber, 45), Wicky (Lauth, 87), Van der Vaart, Fillinger; Trochowski; Sanogo. Substitutes not used: Kirschstein (gk), Jarolim, Berisha, Laas, .

Referee: C Bo Larsen (Denmark).

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