Suddenly this Champions' League lark is a bit more of a breeze for Arsenal. Having toiled for so long under Arsène Wenger, failing to reach the business end of the competition year after annoying year, often looking as if they were suffering some kind of mental block, they stormed into the final last season. Last night they brushed aside the challenge of Hamburg to make an emphatic opening statement of intent in Group G.
Admittedly they were given some large dollops of luck - something they feel they have been lacking of late. First there was a marginal early penalty, cleverly earned by Robin van Persie and executed by Gilberto Silva, which led to the dismissal of the goalkeeper Sascha Kirschstein. Then there was the cavalier, sometimes reckless, approach of the Germans, who jettisoned their claim, earned last season, to having the Bundesliga's soundest defence.
For Arsenal there was also an emphatic goal for Tomas Rosicky, who thrashed the ball into the net from 25 yards, which turned out to be the winner. It earned praise from Wenger, who said he believed the Czech midfielder could pick up the slack, in terms of goal-scoring, left by Robert Pires' departure.
Wenger also felt emboldened to claim that his team are capable of erasing the bitter disappointment of their European Cup final defeat. "It is added pressure," the Frenchman said, before adding: "It is incitement. Somewhere inside all of us the frustration is so bad that we just want to come back and win."
Still there were some unnecessarily uncomfortable moments which may be ascribed as much to Arsenal's fragile confidence - given their stuttering start to the season - as to Hamburg's dogged determination. It meant that after Piotr Trochowski had shivered the crossbar in the dying moments there was still time for the powerful and perennially dangerous Ivorian striker Boubacar Sonogo to turn in David Jarolim's low centre in injury-time.
But Arsenal did hold on to earn what was also their first victory on German soil in six attempts and one gained without their injured captain, Thierry Henry - who has a damaged foot but should be fit for Sunday's Premiership meeting with Manchester United.
More worrying for Wenger was the sight of Kolo Touré being withdrawn after half an hour after jarring his hip. He may not make it to Old Trafford. That did allow William Gallas to move confidently into the centre of defence, although Justin Hoyte is an increasingly nervy full-back.
Arsenal's collective nerves were quickly soothed. Jens Lehmann quickly found Alexander Hleb with a throw-out and he ferried the ball to Emmanuel Adebayor. The striker sent a low ball across the penalty area to Van Persie, who drew the goalkeeper but pushed the ball wide. Kirschstein went to ground, wafted his hand in the air and Van Persie went over. The referee Peter Frojdfeldt had no doubt and raised the red card. Kirschstein was distraught, the crowd apoplectic and the two coaches - Wenger and Hamburg's Thomas Doll - agreed the dismissal was harsh especially as the defender Joris Mathijson was covering. "It was crucial. A catastrophe," said Doll. Gilberto nervelessly swept in the penalty once things had calmed down, while Van Persie, after another fall to the turf, was warned by Frojdfeldt.
Hamburg continued to rage and poured forward. For Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas prompted a series of rapier counter-attacks and almost won another penalty after being clumsily bundled over.
However, the Germans should have drawn level soon after the interval. Sanogo juggled and flicked over a cross which reached Mathijsen - only for the full-back to side-foot his volley wide. Hamburg soon paid a heavy price. Van Persie rolled the ball to Rosicky, who, allowed time and space, struck a wonderful, fierce right-footed shot. It was some strike and reminiscent of the one he thumped in against the United States in the World Cup.
Almost immediately Arsenal should have added another but Adebayor's shot was blocked by the substitute goalkeeper Stefan Wachter, who then had to react smartly to turn away Van Persie's free-kick. Finally the otherwise hugely impressive Gilberto missed, astonishingly, with a free header from six yards after connecting with a corner.
That would have killed the contest. Instead, Hamburg refused to lay down and struck the first goal that Lehmann had conceded in this competition for 853 minutes. It was a record the German international goalkeeper was happy to lose - so long as this vital victory was secured.
Hamburg (4-1-2-1-2): Kirschstein; Demel (Mahdavikia, 54), Reinhardt, Kompany, Mathijsen; De Jong; Jarolim, Wicky (Wachter, 11); Trochowski; Ljuboja (Guerrero, 82), Sanogo. Substitutes not used: Fillinger, Berisha, Laas, Benjamin.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré (Hoyte, 28), Djourou, Gallas; Hleb (Flamini, 69), Gilberto, Fabregas, Rosicky; Adebayor, Van Persie (Baptista, 69). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Ljungberg, Song, Walcott.
Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).Reuse content