For a long time in Berne last night the gloves were on, in a literal and metaphorical sense, as be-mittened Arsenal and Thun pulled their punches on a bitterly cold night. Even though Thun were reduced to 10 men for nearly an hour after Armand Deumi was dismissed, Arsenal appeared to lack the cutting edge to put away their unheralded opponents.
Then, as so often for Thun in this debut European campaign, a combination of tired limbs and ill luck betrayed them. First, they were denied a perfectly legitimate goal through the intervention of a linesman. Then, in the final minutes, the other linesman flagged a harsh spot-kick for Arsenal.
Robert Pires, whose last penalty was the débâcle with Thierry Henry against Manchester City, tucked this one away in conventional style. "I was not worried about him taking the kick," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "I was pleased he took command and wanted to take it." Arsenal will thus host Ajax in the final group stage game next month knowing the group is won and their status as a seeded team is secure come the draw for the knock-out stages.
Thun have one last chance to achieve a happy ending. They need to draw in Prague on December 7 to secure a consolation place in the Uefa Cup. The one concern is that Uefa may take a dim view of the missile-throwing which greeted Portuguese referee, Lucilio Batista, as he left, even if most appeared to be balls of paper and plastic cups.
The beginning would have been as dramatic as the conclusion had Henry had his way. The Frenchman attempted to mark his 70th Arsenal appearance in Europe, a club record, with a goal direct from the kick-off. But his optimistic punt barely reached Eldin Jakupovic.
Thun's offside trap will have reminded many travelling fans of their own team under George Graham, but it was not nearly as effective. After 34 minutes the linesman's flag stayed down as Freddie Ljungberg put Robin van Persie through. As he advanced on Jakupovic, Deumi caught the Dutchman's heel just outside the box. It was an inevitable red card. Van Persie whipped the free-kick just over the bar.
Home anger grew as Mauro Lustrinelli was cautioned for miming that the other linesman needed glasses. The official's eyesight did prove good enough to spot the gesture and inform the referee.
The 10 men thought they had scored after 67 minutes when Nelson Ferreira's free-kick crept inside the far post but the goal was chalked off, erroneously, for offside. The game appeared to be drifting towards a draw when Selver Hodzic put an arm across Van Persie in the box. As Van Persie tumbled theatrically, the referee waved play on but the linesman whose eyesight Lustrinelli had questioned once again proved eagle-eyed.
FC Thun (4-2-3-1): Jakupovic; Orman, Hodzic, Deumi, Goncalves (Benardi, 90); Milicevic, Aegerter; Ferreira, Adriano, Leandro; Lustrinell (Sen, 84). Substitutes not used: Portmann (gk), Duruz, Gelson, Spadoto, Omar.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Eboue, Senderos, Campbell, Cygan (Lauren, 66); Ljungberg, Song (Fabregas, 56), Flamini, Reyes; Henry (Pires, 70), Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Bendtner, Djourou, Lupoli.
Referee: L Batista (Portugal).
l Ajax qualified for the knock-out phase behind Arsenal after two second-half goals by Nigel de Jong gave them a 2-1 home win over Sparta Prague last night.Reuse content