Arsenal's grip on Group H of the Champions League was loosened by defeat in the eastern Ukraine last night, Shakhtar Donetsk joining them on nine points at the top of the table and Sporting Braga, whom Arsenal visit next, now only three points behind after victory over Partizan Belgrade. Both coaches had predicted a very different game to the London side's 5-1 win over the same opponents a fortnight ago, and so it proved.
Despite a smooth start when Theo Walcott shot them ahead, Arsène Wenger's side fell apart in defence, conceding an own goal by Craig Eastmond on his European debut before their popular former striker Eduardo da Silva scored what proved to be the winner just before half-time. It is just as well that Arsenal scored 14 goals in winning their first three games, as they should have a better head-to head record than their rivals, but this was a missed opportunity to secure qualification.
Having left four injured midfielders – Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Denilson and Andrei Arshavin – in London, Wenger surprisingly opted to pair the 19-year-old Eastmond with the even younger Jack Wilshere as the holding pair. The small knot of Arsenal supporters high up in a fine new stadium, which will host a semi-final among other games at Euro 2012, were entitled to misgivings about a tactical disposition placing such responsibility on those young shoulders. The teenagers were fine going forward and within 10 minutes, the precocious Wilshere, tied down with a five-year contract earlier this week, had made a goal. Defensively, however, Shakhtar were able to exploit the duo, as well as the lax play from a more experienced back four, including a howler from Gaël Clichy, to set up the winning goal.
"We lost our concentration and urgency and let them come back into the game," Wenger said. "I felt it was more a team problem than an individual problem. They've learnt a lesson that at this level you can't lose focus at any moment. We were punished for that."
Wilshere's best moment came early on. Collecting the ball from a Shakhtar corner, he sent Walcott free from inside his own half at scorching pace to race away from Olexiy Gai and finish perfectly with a low shot just inside the far post. With Walcott and Samir Nasri out wide, however, Arsenal were less impressive defensively and Wenger showed his frustration in the technical area as the home side created three chances in one attack before claiming an equaliser and then the lead.
Jadson, a handful down the left, hit a post with his header, and when Emmanuel Eboué was booked for fouling him, a goal resulted. Jadson's free-kick glanced off Dmytro Chygrynskiy and then, more firmly, off Eastmond into his own net. Inspired by the noisy hardcore support behind the goal defying the cold by removing their tops en masse, Shakhtar continued to press. In the last minute of the half, Clichy, supposedly one of the more mature performers at 25, allowed the right-back Darijo Srna to dispossess him and square the ball for Eduardo, who had no compunction about beating Lukasz Fabianski even if he declined to celebrate.
Arsenal sent on Carlos Vela in the place of Eastmond to offer support to Nicklas Bendtner, who had been preferred to Marouane Chamakh, but was struggling to get into the game. Chamakh soon replaced him. With the mist rolling in, and even the hardcore sensibly putting their clothes back on, Arsenal did at least threaten again. Wilshere was annoyed with himself for clipping a shot wide after Willian lost the ball. But it was not enough to improve a poor record in the Ukraine.
Shakhtar Donetsk (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Srna, Chygrynskiy, Rakytskiy, Rat; Gai, (Teixeira, 61), Hubschman; Eduardo, Willian, Jadson (Costa, 72); L Adriano. Substitutes not used Khudzhamov (gk), Kucher, Kobin, Stepanenko, Moreno.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianksi; Eboué, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy; Eastmond (Vela, 58), Wilshere; Walcott (Emmanuel-Thomas, 82), Rosicky, Nasri; Bendtner (Chamakh, 72). Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Sagna, Koscielny, Lansbury.
Booked: Shakhtar Rat, Gai; Arsenal Eboué.
Possession Shakhtar 54%, Arsenal 46%.
Shots on target Shakhtar 14, Arsenal 9.
Referee M Busacca (Switzerland).
Man of the match Jadson.Match rating 7/10.