Lehmann error so costly for Arsenal

Dynamo Kiev 2 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Football

The last time Arsenal played in a city built on seven hills it was in the evisceration of Roma. Last night they were destroyed themselves in the precipitation of Kiev. It rained all day in the Ukrainian capital and in the evening Arsenal were simply washed away by a vibrant and powerful Dynamo side. And with the defeat, more comprehensive than the scoreline would suggest, their Champions' League hopes were all but extinguished - although Internazionale's crushing loss in Moscow leaves Group B more bunched than expected.

In truth, the Premiership side now probably have to win their final three games to stand any chance - and they have not won at all in Europe since that encounter in Rome last November - a run now of eight frustrating matches. The statistics are a damning enough indictment although Arsenal at least avoided becoming the only team out of 32 in this year's competition not to have scored with Thierry Henry's 27th European goal.

Afterwards both managers spoke of luck - Arsenal's lack of it, and Dynamo's ability to exploit theirs. And Arsène Wenger could rightly point to a wretched goalkeeping error by Jens Lehmann (he committed two others the last time he played on this ground for Borussia Dortmund) and a late rally which saw the outstanding Kolo Touré strike the woodwork.

But a draw would have been fortunate. "Even at 2-0 we refused to lose the game and we almost got a point," Wenger said, his sense of defiance undoubtedly fuelled by anger. He could also talk of "mental strength" and team-work but it was in vain. His players were missing a heart. Arsenal started without their captain, Patrick Vieira - who must have been in a worse condition than reported - and, in his absence, the Brazilians Gilberto and Edu disappeared.

It meant Wenger kept the same XI who beat Chelsea - but, surprisingly, deployed Robert Pires behind the main strikers. That was surprising because it was a large, slippery pitch. Width was there to be exploited and Dynamo duly did so. "We tried to use their flanks," said their coach, Alexei Mikhailichenko. Arsenal's tactics were a signal of intent. They felt they had to win and made a statement in the first 10 minutes.An early Pires header provoked a save between goalkeeper and post and culminated an early period of pressure. Dynamo were not to be undone and Maksim Shatskikh - bought as Andriy Schevchenko's replacement - cut inside to force a sharp one-handed save by Jens Lehmann.

This was a very different Dynamo side from the one which defeated Arsenal so comprehensively in 1998 on their way to the semi-finals. Dynamo are now a team brimming with talent, especially in midfield with Jerko Leko and the 30-year-old Valentin Belkevich - the captain, known as the "pass master" (for obvious reasons) - who was prominent. He distracted the Arsenal defence enough to force Lehmann to rush from goal and hack the ball straight to Oleg Gusev whose attempted lob was returned to the goalkeeper's arms. It was an ominous sign of what was to come.

The game was dangerously open and, on 27 minutes, Dynamo profited. With Arsenal re-grouping a shot from 20 yards by Leko ballooned up and over the defence. Shatskikh, the Ukbek striker, was first to it and volleyed confidently into the net. Arsenal appealed in vain for offside. The advantage allowed Dynamo to play on the counter.

"They were tight and man-marked in their own half and tried to get us on the break," said Wenger. A cross by Andriy Nesmachnyi was hacked away and then Leko, from distance, had Lehmann stretching. The Arsenal formation was not working. It was far too narrow. Gaps were apparent down both flanks which were openly exploited. It also meant breaks were isolated - Sylvain Wiltord or Henry forayed alone.

After the break Arsenal picked up the tempo in an already shockingly quick match. Nevertheless the fluency was with the home side and, again, Lehmann flapped - this time at a corner - and Tiberiu Ghioane blasted over. If anything the game become looser, more open and Wenger decided to gamble with Vieira. Edu gave way. The frustration grew and then it exploded. Lehmann, injudiciously, charged forward. His clearance landed again at an opponent - Belkevich's first shot struck the goalkeeper and then he swept the return in. It was a poor, poor goal and indicative of Arsenal's growing disarray.

They tried to bite back. Wiltord forced a smart save and more forwards were thrown on. Suddenly a lifeline was grasped. Again it was Wiltord - working hard - who found Pires and the ball was scrambled across for Henry to poke it past Olekandr Shovkovskyi. Kanu then had another effort block and Touré, agonisingly, struck the crossbar. It was all too late. At the other end, Diogo Rincon then somehow missed but it mattered little. Arsenal were beaten. Well beaten.

Dynamo Kiev (4-4-1-1): Shovkovskyi; Peev, Gavrancic, Fedorov, Nesmachnyi; Gusev (Rincon, 64), Dmytrulin (Sablic, 33), Leko, Ghioane (Khatskevich, 79); Belkevich; Shatskikh. Substitutes not used: Reva (gk), El Kaddouri, Nanni, Milevskyy.

Arsenal (4-3-1-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, Cole; Parlour (Ljungberg, 73), Edu (Vieira, 61), Gilberto Silva (Kanu, 73); Pires; Wiltord, Henry. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Cygan, Clichy, Hoyte.

Referee: K Plautz (Austria).