Eduardo enjoys reprieve to seal Arsenal comeback

Standard Liege 2 Arsenal 3
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The Independent Football

For a long time last night it seemed Michel Platini would have the last laugh, but in the end Eduardo was smiling again. Two days after Uefa's ban on the Croatian striker was overturned he looked to have precipitated a damaging defeat when a daft pass left Arsenal trailing in the second minute. In a torrid European baptism for rookie 'keeper Vito Mannone the bewildered Gunners then conceded a penalty to be two down after four minutes to the competition debutants.

But Arsenal were lifted when Nicklas Bendtner scored just before the break and clinched a dramatic victory with a brace of late goals from Thomas Vermaelen and, inevitably, Eduardo.

Arsenal now play Olympiakos – who beat AZ Alkmaar 1-0 last night, and announced Zico was their new coach during the game – at the Emirates in 12 days time. Another victory will put them in firm control of Group H.

"We were caught cold by a team which was really ready to start off the blocks and left with a big task," said Arsène Wenger. "To win away from home in the Champions League, knowing you have to score three, is tough. It shows the team have good character."

This is Wenger's tenth successive assault on the Champions League and such is the turnover at Arsenal only two of the team which came closest, losing the 2006 final to Barcelona, started last night, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboué. The latter's inclusion ahead of Bacary Sagna was unexpected, as was the recall of Tomas Rosicky for his first Arsenal start since breaking down nine minutes into an FA Cup tie in January 2008. The Czech international has endured a worrying time with injuries, notably a knee problem which he feared would end his career.

Belgian football has been in the doldrums for many years but in this industrial region there is no shortage of passion for the game. The Stade Maurice Dufrasne was a cauldron of smoke, banners and, especially, noise. It was an intimidating arena for Mannone to make his second Arsenal appearance. The young Italian would have welcomed an early touch but his team-mates forwent the opportunity. Thus his first act was to pick the ball out of his net, his second to face a penalty.

This calamitous start had its roots in an unnecessary clearance by Alex Song, who conceded a corner when he should have let the ball run for Mannone. Perhaps the rookie did not give him a loud enough shout. The corner was headed away but Eduardo, instead of controlling the clearance and making ground, chose nonsensically to attempt a mid-air, back-heeled, flick pass back inside. The ball fell to Eliaquim Mangala who scored from the edge of the box. "When you want your team to play you have to accept they will take risks," said a sanguine Wenger.

Soon it was two-nil. Milan Jovanovic looked to be going nowhere when William Gallas caught his back leg on the edge of the box. The Spanish referee decreed the offence was inside and Jovanovic got up to send Mannone the wrong way.

With Standard now happy to sit back Arsenal were able to settle and impose their passing game. This brought reward when Abou Diaby turned Axel Witsel in midfield, drove forward, and released Bendtner, who scored between Sinan Bolat's legs.

A mix-up between Song and Gallas gifted possession seconds into the second half. Dieudonne Mbokani should have scored but Gaël Clichy blocked his shot. Such attacks were rare as Arsenal penned Standard back. "We defended too deep, we were not strong enough mentally," lamented Laszlo Boloni, the coach.

Nevertheless it began to appear another frustrating night when Arsenal finally struck twice, from set-plays. Eleven minutes from time they won a free-kick. Jack Wilshere was ready to replace Song but Wenger delayed, reasoning: "Song can be dangerous on free-kicks."

So it proved, as from Eduardo's flick-on Song turned the ball back for Vermaelen to score. Liège complained, with reason, for replays revealed both were offside and Song probably handled. It seemed the luck Wenger felt had deserted his team had returned. From a Fabregas corner Eduardo steered the ball in off his thigh. "It was inevitable," said Wenger. Each group stage victory is worth £500,000. Arsenal's investment to clear Eduardo, flying lawyers and forensic video experts to Switzerland, had paid off.

Standard Liège (4-3-2-1): Bolat; Camozzato, Sarr, Mangala, Rocha; Dalmat (Goreux, 80), Witsel (Traoré, 84) Carcela; De Camargo, Jovanovic (Nicaise, 58), Mbokani. Substitutes not used: Van Hout (gk), Felipe, Dufer, Mulemo.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Mannone; Eboué (Sagna, 80), Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Rosicky (Ramsey, 70), Bendtner, Eduardo (Wilshere, 86). Substitutes not used:Szczesny (gk), Silvestre, Gibbs, Watt.

Referee: E Gonzalez (Spain)


Number of successive years that Arsenal have been in the Champions League.