Greeks expose Arsenal frailties

Panathinaikos 2 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Football

Arsenal came to exorcise the Greek ghosts of three years ago but, in the end, left here haunted by their own frailties. Europe remains something of a mystery to them and for the second consecutive match they let slip a lead. They are the only unbeaten side in Group E and will, undoubtedly, qualify but were shaken, at times, in an intense encounter.

For much of it Thierry Henry, captain for the night, seemed bewitched by the events of the previous match against Rosenborg when Arsenal lost and he lost his head. He shook off his demons to score Arsenal's second goal but it was a disappointing performance from him. Arsenal were hit with an early setback when Jose Antonio Reyes suffered a fierce blow to the ankle from Loukas Vintra's late challenge. It dulled his effectiveness and distracted his team-mates.

Twice in the opening quarter, for the Greeks, Angelos Basinas struck cleanly and fiercely from distance. His first shot veered wide, the second had Jens Lehmann punching the ball into the air. Basinas, playing with the swagger of a Euro 2004 winner, was gaining an easy grip. Space opened up and it appeared Cesc Fabregas - on his Champions' League debut - was struggling.

The 17-year-old Spaniard of such prodigious talents then immediately served to overturn that judgement. On 18 minutes, he fed the ball to Reyes who cleverly found Fredrik Ljungberg. The Swede moved towards the penalty spot and calmly lifted the ball over goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias for his third goal in three games including consecutive Champions' League matches.

For a while it doused the din of the crowd who had been frothing at Panathinaikos's early supremacy. Still Fabregas and his midfield partner Edu struggled to gain control. The passing rhythm was absent in a pair whose only previous game together had been away to Rotherham United. Millmoor may have its own special atmosphere, but this was a different ball game and Patrick Vieira's influence was sorely missed.

The Greeks, meanwhile, bristled with controlled aggression and alert challenges and from one interception the ball was whipped in for Michalis Konstantinou. But the lone striker's header span wide.

They did not look much like a team that had won two of their last nine Champions' League games and are in a state of relative turmoil following the recent departure of the coach. It was Itzhak Shum who had led them to the league and cup double and their first championship in eight years. But it was easy to see why this was the 10th time in a row they had failed to keep a clean sheet.

After that 2001 meeting, which is the only time a Greek club side has beaten one from England, Panathinaikos went on to win the group and eventually reached the last eight, as did Arsenal. For the visitors there were six survivors from that tie, while for Panathinaikos there were just three. However, one of those, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, almost drew the sides level from another attack down Arsenal's left. A free-kick was won but Kyrgiakos's header, all too easily executed, drifted wide. Panathinaikos won another free-kick, this time after Fabregas's crude challenge and Basinas curled his shot on to the roof of the net.

The rhythm did not abate in the second half either. Rudolf Skacel went down in the area but his penalty appeals were desperate rather than deserving while Lehmann clung on to Ezequiel Gonzalez's deflected shot.

It was becoming more frantic and Reyes was fortunate to escape following a wild hack at Nasief Morris after he was crowded out while Lehmann had a casual clearance charged down. Fortunately for Arsenal Sol Campbell held steady, Kolo Touré was as energetic as ever. Before them and the midfield was chaotic. From another slip the ball broke to Dumitru Mitu and his angled shot just cleared the far post. Soon Ashley Cole and Henry were exchanging words.

On 65 minutes, Panathinaikos made a change. It had an immediate, dramatic effect. Emmanuel Olisadebe chased a long punt forward, Lehmann had to come and, outside of his area, he met it with his head. However, his clearance lacked power and the ball dropped to Gonzalez who spectacularly hooked it in from near the touchline. The celebrations were as chaotic as the goal.

Arsène Wenger's options were limited not in talent but in experience. Only one of his outfield substitutes was over 21. As he pondered what to do, his players intervened. Cole latched onto Basinas's misplaced through ball and exchanged passes with Robert Pires. The full-back tore down the left and centred, perfectly, for the onrushing Henry, who shot low into the net. His redemption was short-lived.

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