Arsenal's easy progress soured by Gibbs injury

Arsenal 2 Standard Liege 0
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The Independent Online

If Arsène Wenger was moved to swear last night it was understandable. This easy victory over a sub-standard Liège team may have secured Arsenal's progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League but it came at a cost. Long after goals from Samir Nasri and Denilson had made the game safe Kieran Gibbs suffered a fractured metatarsal. He will have an operation this morning and is unlikely to play again for two months.

It is a cruel blow for the young Englishman, and a damaging one for his club. With Gaël Clichy already out for at least as long, Gibbs has lost the chance to build a reputation. It leaves Wenger with a crisis at left-back. The manager's options appear to be playing the inexperienced Armand Traoré, who has struggled to fulfil his early potential, fielding the veteran Mikael Silvestre, or switching Bacary Sagna to the left and playing Emmanuel Eboué on the right.

William Gallas and Andrei Arshavin were also injured, mainly in a collision with one another. Gallas suffered a cut mouth and bruised eye which swelled up so badly he had to come off because, said Wenger, "he could not see". Arshavin had staples inserted in a cut. Gallas also suffered ankle bruising but Wenger said both should be fit for Chelsea's visit on Sunday.

Wenger's pre-match four-letter tirade about Theo Walcott had persuaded most journalists to include the winger in their anticipated Arsenal XI. Thus the Arsenal team-sheet prompted a string of expletives in the press box. The injury-prone Englishman was left on the bench while Nasri occupied the right wing and Cesc Fabregas and Arshavin supported lone striker Carlos Vela.

It was the first start of the season for the Mexican forward who is yet to justify his controversial recruitment while still a 16-year-old. It was also, with Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner injured, his opportunity to stake a claim for the centre-forward place which Eduardo seems unable to secure.

When these teams met in the opening match of the group, Liège established a 2-0 lead within five minutes before losing 3-2. This time Arsenal began with a rush and Alex Song, Fabregas and Nasri all had efforts on goal in the opening five minutes, with less success.

Arsenal continued to waste chances. Song released Nasri who, with the goal agape, curiously chose a difficult cross instead. Next came an extraordinary bout of pinball following a Fabregas corner in which goalkeeper Sinan Bolat saved an Arshavin header, Vela had a shot cleared off the line, and Bolat saved from Gallas, before Arshavin inadvertently diverted Thomas Vermaelen's goalbound shot over.

Given all this pressure it was something of a shock when Liège not only mounted an attack, but Dieudonne Mbokani weaved away from Vermaelen to strike a 20-yard shot against the junction of post and bar.

Arsenal, warned, resumed the siege but Liège seemed emboldened by this near thing and provided stiffer resistance. They were undone after 35 minutes when Landry Mulemo stumbled as he went to clear a hopeful long ball from Vermaelen. Nasri seized on the error and drove a shot beyond Bolat.

Liège should have had a penalty when Gallas barged into Reginal Goreux from behind. Referee Konrad Plautz, who had earlier dismissed a 50-50 claim from Eboué – perhaps aware of his reputation as a diver – astonishingly waved play on.

Within minutes the tie was effectively over as Denilson, unchallenged 30 yards out, ventured an apparently unremarkable shot which dipped over Bolat's flailing hands.

The Brazilian's goal, on his 100th appearance for Arsenal, killed the game as a contest, though it may have been revived had Alex Witsel not passed up a close-range chance as Arsenal dozed at a set-piece. Instead, the evening's prime interest became the arrival of Walcott on the hour. The England winger, who had played only 73 minutes since August, immediately caused problems for Mulemo, though given the chasing Nasri had given him this was hardly surprising. The nearest effort to a goal, however, was at the other end when substitute Gohi-Bi Cyriac struck the post from 20 yards with seven minutes left.

As the ball bounced away the game seemed destined to meander to an uneventful conclusion. Instead there was an unexpected flare-up. Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez pursued Fabregas towards the corner flag and then kicked him. Fabregas got up to remonstrate and the pair put heads together like rutting stags. The young Belgian butted Fabregas who, to his credit, stayed on his feet. Plautz booked Fabregas and dismissed Carcela-Gonzalez. But Arsenal also ended with 10 as Gibbs limped off after a challenge by Eliaquim Mangala. "It was not his first try," said an angry Wenger.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1) Almunia; Eboué, Gallas (Silvestre, h-t), Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Denilson (Rosicky, 66); Nasri (Walcott, 60), Fabregas, Arshavin; Vela. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Sagna, Eduardo, Traore.

Standard Liège (4-1-4-1): Bolat; Camozzato, Sarr, Felipe, Mulemo; Witsel; Goreux, Mangala, Carcela-Gonzalez, Dalmat (Traoré, 64); Mbokani (Cyriac, 67). Substitutes not used: Van Hout (gk), Ramos, Rocha, Gershon, Nicaise.

Referee: K Plautz (Austria).

Group H

Results so far: Olympiakos 1 AZ 0, Standard Liège 2 Arsenal 3; Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 0, AZ 1 Standard Liège 1; AZ 1 Arsenal 1, Olympiakos 2 Standard Liège 1; Arsenal 4 AZ 1, Standard Liège 2 Olympiakos 0; Arsenal 2 Standard Liège 0, AZ 0 Olympiakos 0.

Arsenal's remaining fixture: Wed 9 Dec: Olympiakos (a).

AZ Alkmaar 0-0 Olympiakos Second place is still up for grabs after the Greeks could only manage a goalless draw in the Netherlands. Olympiakos need a point from their final game, at home to Arsenal, to progress.

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