This was a different kind of Arsenal. Having tried pace, they attempted patience. Exuberance was reined in, swashes buckled, rapiers at times flourished with less abandon. It was mature and disciplined, and it showed that lessons had been learned.
This was a different kind of Arsenal. Having tried panache, they attempted patience. Exuberance was reined in, swashes buckled, rapiers flourished with less abandon. It was mature, disciplined, and it showed that lessons had been learned. Patience had its virtue in victory over PSV Eindhoven which opened their latest campaign to win the European Cup.
But it was only relatively convincing. Their manager, Arsène Wenger, was left witnessing a messy final few minutes and whistles of relief at the end, even if he contested that there was no serious danger. "When we did not find our flow," Wenger said, "we showed experience and maturity." "They got flustered and nervous," countered his opposite number, Guus Hiddink. The truth lies between the two.
The scoreline, secured by an own goal after a brilliant piece of trickery by Thierry Henry, left too slim a margin of error. It wasn't exactly winning ugly Arsenal never do that but it was a little plain. "I don't like boring football," Wenger said. "But sometimes you have to adapt." His players were tired, he said, "with not enough petrol in the tank" after four games in 10 days.
The tightness of Fredrik Ljungberg's back eased one selection issue with Jose Antonio Reyes six goals in six games starting and Robert Pires shuffling across. The former made the greater impression; the latter was one of those low on gas. Reyes' readiness to leave his wing caused a threat but that was under-exploited.
Indeed a highly organised PSV were the perfect test and Wenger admitted afterwards that he was surprised by their "intelligence". That was down to Hiddink, who won this cup as long ago as 1988. He preyed on Arsenal's demons their nervousness over the European record and readily admitted he had come to frustrate. He was aided by a midfield triumvirate, in Phillip Cocu, Mark van Bommel and Johann Vogel, of rare experience and no little guile. It was a perpetual wall which, for most of the first half, Arsenal's attacks could not circumvent.
But Henry was the launch-pad. A low shot struck the side-netting and then Pires scuffed an effort. Arsenal tried to pick their moments and the rhythm grew. Van Bommel brought down Gilberto Silva and Henry's free-kick from 25 yards was vicious but straight at Edwin Zoetebier. It proved a sighter. From the same distance Henry executed an even more violent shot. The keeper parried, Pires headed in. But he was offside. No matter.
Henry was at his irrepressible best now and he skipped away from Cocu on the touchline, slalomed another challenge and from inside the six-yard area he flicked a cross. Panic ensued and the ball struck Alex and spun into the net.
It immediately changed the dynamics. PSV's tactics had to alter, their formation transformed into 4-3-3 and they were rewarded with a few slim opportunities. A header by Young-Pyo Lee, unmarked, sailed over while a shot by the substitute Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who was also free, was wayward but hit Pascal Cygan and cannoned for a corner rather than into the net as it could so easily have done.
At the other end, Cygan flicked on a Dennis Bergkamp free-kick only for the ball narrowly to evade the boot of Patrick Vieira and the far post.
It was too loose for Wenger and he tightened things up with a dozen minutes to go by introducting Edu. They did not concede, even if another Lee header almost caused alarm.
Having taken four matches to win a Champions' League tie last autumn, Arsenal were off the mark from the start. "I'm convinced the trauma of last season was in our heads," said Wenger. It isn't any longer.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Cygan, Touré, Cole; Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Reyes (Edu, 78); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Alumnia (gk), Van Persie, Fabregas, Pennant, Clichy, Hoyte.
PSV Eindhoven (4-2-3-1): Zoetebier; Ooijer, Alex, Bouma, Lee; Cocu (De Jong, 83), Vogel; Park, Van Bommel, Beasley (Farfan, 59); Sibon (Vennegoor of Hesselink, 66). Substitutes not used: Silva Gomes (gk), Lucius, Lamey, Feher.
Referee: D Messina (Italy).Reuse content