Thierry Henry, who had been so upset by the Greek tendency to make a drama out of a tackle during Arsenal's 1-0 defeat to Panathinaikos a fortnight ago, took the revenge he had threatened last night. Two goals, giving him eight in the past seven games, deservedly helped revitalise his team's Champions' League campaign, along with Richard Wright's penalty save on his European debut and Real Mallorca's 4-0 home defeat to Schalke 04.
It would be wrong to say the Greeks would not lie down – they did so all too often. But they pushed Arsène Wenger's team all the way before submitting to a first defeat in the group after three victories without conceding an goal.
With Martin Keown unexpectedly left on the substitutes' bench last night, Patrick Vieira was the only survivor from the sides' Champions League meeting at Wembley in 1998. Despite Tony Adams's continued absence with a foot injury, Matthew Upson held his place in preference to Keown in a defence notably short on European experience. Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole have only a handful of games in this competition behind them and Wright was appearing in goal for the first time in European football.
A noisy contingent of Greeks were also present, reprising the synchronised chanting that had their little stadium jumping a fortnight ago. Once Arsenal went straight on to the attack, winning a corner inside 25 seconds, the home crowd responded and the atmosphere was as good as in recent memory at the fine old north London ground.
After that initial burst, the lanky Cypriot striker Michalis Konstantinou was played into a good position, only to be put off by Campbell's desperate tackle and then to jab a low cross by Angelos Basinas wide. Just at the right time Vieira, who had been struggling to get into the game, became a man transformed. In the 24th minute, he won the ball from Basinas and sent it into the path of Henry's perfectly timed run. The finish was perfect and the celebration in front of the Panathinaikos fans suggested that he had made a point with his 10th goal of the season.
Within six minutes the Greek fans were dancing again – prematurely as it turned out – when Upson unwisely challenged Emmanuel Olisadebe from behind to concede a penalty. Wright made himself an instant hero by plunging to his right to push away Basinas's spot-kick.
Had Campbell controlled his shot better from 12 yards after a free-kick fell to him at the other end, Arsenal would have had an even more valuable lead to take into the dressing-room at half-time. That looked an expensive lapse when the same player made an error in defence five minutes after the interval to allow Panathinaikos an equaliser. He misjudged a header from a right-wing cross and could not quite prevent Olisadebe, the Nigerian-Pole, from squeezing the loose ball past Wright at his near post.
But only five minutes later Paulo Sousa and Sotiris Kyrgiakos – both of whom had been booked – combined to nudge Sylvain Wiltord over and Henry demonstrated to Basinas and everyone else how to take a penalty under pressure.
Still the Greeks, effectively needing only a draw to qualify, were not finished. Wright was alarmed at the laxity in front of him that allowed Olisadebe to turn inside and drive a fierce shot against the angle of bar and post. But Arsenal held on and must now do it all again against Mallorca next Wednesday.
Arsenal (4-4-2) Wright; Lauren, Campbell, Upson, Cole; Ljungberg, Vieira, Van Bronckhorst, Pires (Parlour, 70); Wiltord (Bergkamp, 70), Henry (Grimandi, 89). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Keown, Luzhny, Kanu.
Panathinaikos (3-5-2): Nikopolidis; Kyrgiakos, Henriksen, Vokolos; Michaelsen, Paulo Sousa (Seitaridis, 76), Karagounis (Kolkka, 76), Basinas, Fyssas; Konstantinou (Vlaovic, 76), Olisadebe. Substitutes not used: Kotsolis (gk), Boateng, Saric, Liberopoulos.
Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).
* Manchester United and Arsenal face two games in two days next month, the date of their third-round Worthington Cup tie having been changed by agreement with the clubs yesterday. United's trip to Highbury has been brought forward 48 hours by the Football League to Monday 5 November, with a 7.45 kick-off. United play Liverpool in the Premiership on Sunday 4 November at 11.30. On the same day Arsenal have a Premiership game against Charlton Athletic at Highbury at 2.0.Reuse content