Keown double crowns Arsenal's comeback

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Martin Keown transformed Arsenal's European homecoming to Highbury from nightmare to face-saving victory within five minutes last night.

Martin Keown transformed Arsenal's European homecoming to Highbury from nightmare to face-saving victory within five minutes last night.

A chested goal on 85 minutes and an injury-time winner gave his side a 3-2 win over Shakhtar Donetsk to keep them equal top of the Champions' League Group E with Lazio.

Last night's match was the Gunners' first at Highbury in the Champions' League for three years, having decamped to Wembley for their last two campaigns. The six matches played beneath the twin towers yielded but two wins on the way to first-stage eliminations, and a return to N5 would probably have been deemed desirable even if the country's national stadium were not about to bulldozed. Or so the theory went.

After a promising start to this year's competition last week - a 1-0 win away at Sparta Prague - it seemed that Arsÿne Wenger was going to try to build on it by attacking. He had hinted that he might play with three strikers last night, but when the team was announced Dennis Bergkamp - apparently destined to play behind a front two - had to make do with a start on the bench. He was joined there by Sylvain Wiltord as Wenger stuck to the trusted 4-4-2 formation and began the match playing Thierry Henry and Nwankwo Kanu together in attack.

For 25 minutes it looked as though it would only be a matter of time before the goals started coming. As early as the third minute Kanu lofted a long ball for Henry who chased forward to reach it. Just as the Frenchman was inside the box and extending his foot high towards the ball, he realised that the referee had ruled him offside. Replays suggested it was a dubious decision.

Kanu was then denied when his shot was parried around the post by Yuri Virt in the Shakhtar goal, and, just before the quarter hour, Robert Pires skipped into the box to meet an Henry pass but his shot took a deflection off a diving Virt and went wide. Ten minutes later, Henry was awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box but his curling shot could only rattle the crossbar.

Everyone might have expected the Ukrainians to be in for a difficult evening at that point, but the visitors themselves had different ideas. In their first dangerous foray of the match, the visitors won a free-kick. Alexei Bakharev stepped up and pumped the ball towards goal and was just as astounded as everyone else in the ground when it took a deflection off Pires and shot into the right side of the net.

With their hosts still reeling, Shakhtar pressed forward again. Sergei Atelkin, in the centre of the box, collected a long ball that dissected the home defence and fed it straight out towards the left wing, where Andrei Vorobei met it. Vorobei, the current leading goalscorer in the Ukrainian league, controlled the ball well to drive an angled shot past David Seaman.

Wiltord made his entrance on 34 minutes, replacing Pires, and was immediately involved, tapping an indirect free-kick in the Shakhtar box to Henry. The latter, perhaps put off by 10 opponents and a couple of team-mates standing some five yards in front of him, blasted over.

The drama of the half was not finished. The visitors had Sergei Popov dismissed after 44 minutes for body-checking Patrick Vieira. It was his second bookable offence after a lunge at the same man earlier. In stoppage time, Arsenal were awarded a penalty after a foul on Wiltord by Mikhailo Starostyak. Highbury hearts were firmly in mouths as Henry's effort was saved but relief came as Wiltford slotted home the rebound.

If the Arsenal supporters had expected their team to exploit their numerical advantage after the break they were not wrong, even if there was little reward much of the time. Kanu shot wide after 51 minutes, Henry flicked in an attempt a minute later to the same effect, and then Wiltord placed a fine cross to Henry, who shot wide again.

With 25 minutes remaining, Wenger brought on Bergkamp for Fredrik Ljungberg, giving the Gunners' manager the attacking formation he had decided against starting with. It did not pay immediate dividends and it was Lee Dixon, of all people, who had two of the best chances of the game only to see both his ferocious shots marvellously saved.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Luzhny, Silvinho; Ljungberg (Bergkamp, 65), Vieira, Grimandi, Pires (Wiltord, 34); Kanu, Henry. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Parlour, Vivas, Cole, Vernazza.

Shakhtar Donetsk (4-4-2): Virt; Starostyak, Glevetskas, Shevchyuk, Tymoschyuk; Abramov (Kriventsov, 59), Popov, Bakharev (Byelik, 70), Zubov; Atelkin (Kovalyov, 77), Vorobei. Substitutes not used: Shutkov (gk), Chmarko, Aliuta, Savu.

Referee: H Strampe (Germany).

Comments