Arsenal fall back into bad habits

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The Independent Football

It was a return to the agonies of old for Arsenal when they surrendered the lead late in Wednesday's Champions' League tie against Lyon. Their entry into the modern Champions' League was marred by losing late goals and the habit, it appears, has resurfaced.

It was a return to the agonies of old for Arsenal when they surrendered the lead late in Wednesday's Champions' League tie against Lyon. Their entry into the modern Champions' League was marred by losing late goals and the habit, it appears, has resurfaced.

In 1998 it was a 90th-minute Tony Vareilles equaliser which cost them victory in their opening group game in Lens. An 87th-minute consolation for Panathinaikos in the next game was not a problem, but Sergei Rebrov's 90th-minute leveller for Dynamo Kiev lopped another pair of points off the final tally and ultimately cost Arsenal a qualifying place.

The following season it was a Gabriel Batistuta goal a quarter of an hour from time which earned Fiorentina victory at Wembley and a second-stage place at Arsenal's expense.

This season Arsenal not only seemed to have learned the lesson, but were applying it to their advantage. Martin Keown's late brace turned defeat into victory at home to Shaktar Donetsk and Robert Pires then pointed towards the second stage with an 88th-minute equaliser in Rome. On Wednesday, though, they sat too deep, failed to hold the ball and let Lyon control the tempo. Edmilson's header punished them.

It was not as if they had not been warned. Manchester United, as the Arsenal manager, Arsÿne Wenger, afterwards pointed out, had suffered a similar fate at home to Valencia the previous evening. Wenger blamed fatigue but, while Sunday's match against Chelsea was demanding, Lyon had played with 10 men for the last 23 minutes at Toulouse on Saturday.

Given the way Lyon seized control early in the second half Wenger should, perhaps, have brought on his substitutes earlier. Though Dennis Bergkamp scored he faded, as Wenger admitted. Maybe his reluctance to introduce Kanu was the result of the morning headlines suggesting the Nigerian would quit if he did not play. Wenger, usually frank and expansive, refused to comment on the issue.

Not that Arsenal are the only team to be undone by late goals. A staggering 23 per cent of all goals in this stage of the Champions' League have come in the last 10 minutes (11 per cent of the playing time). In the Champions' League as a whole 70 goals have been scored in last 10 minutes with 27 changing the result. The biggest sufferers are Lazio who have lost to such goals in three of their four second-stage games.

Arsenal can still qualify in their next match, on 6 March - if they defeat Spartak Moscow at Highbury while Lyon fail to beat Bayern Munich in Lyon. Any other combination and Arsenal may need to take a result from Munich the following week. Bayern may well have qualified by then but, if not, Arsenal can be sure that, following their European experiences, the Germans will be concentrating to the final minute.

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