The four contestants in Group D of the Champions' League will all spend Christmas believing they can reach the quarter-finals. Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen, both badly beaten in their opening game, turned the tables on Juventus and Deportivo La Coruña last night to leave the table that matters all square bar a goal or two.
Fredrik Ljungberg, scoring twice (the second set up by a piece of magic by Dennis Bergkamp), and Thierry Henry continued their run of goals the striker reaching 19 in 20 games to deny the Italians despite an outstanding performance by the gifted Alessandro del Piero. For once Patrick Vieira was overshadowed by the opposing captain, but on a night when Gallic influence always seemed likely to be strong, Henry's all-round work caused problems for Lilian Thuram and made him more of an influence than his probable World Cup partner, David Trézéguet.
It was an exciting occasion of the kind that justified the league system, overblown as it may be. In an old two-leg European Cup tie, Juventus would almost certainly have resorted to massed defence after scoring an away goal early in the second half to cut the deficit to 2-1. As it was, they were forced to chase an equaliser, leaving space that Arsenal eventually exploited with Ljungberg's second goal just before the end. Now the London side must reproduce the conviction of Highbury performances like this in at least some of their continental trips, preferably starting in Leverkusen next February.
A delighted Arsène Wenger praised his team's "solidarity and togetherness" in achieving "a great victory for the club". He also acknowledged the part played by Stuart Taylor, the young goalkeeper who had first been called to the colours at half-time in La Coruña last month. The 21-year-old earned his stripes in the first quarter of the game when Del Piero was threatening to steal the show from the French contingent: three times in the first 10 minutes the white boots twinkled in front of Arsenal's net without managing to despatch the ball into it.
Taylor did well to block Pavel Nedved's shot with his feet the Czech having been brilliantly set up by Del Piero's flick and Trézéguet could do no better than nod the loose ball on to the roof of the net. But Arsenal it was who scored, and not once but twice. Almost midway through the half, Lauren's cross was knocked out to Vieira, who cleverly changed feet for a shot that Buffon, reprehensibly, could not hold; Ljungberg, Highbury's favourite Swede until Sven Goran Eriksson takes that mantle in June, pounced for his third goal in three games. Juventus were under the cosh, Ray Parlour's dipping 20 yarder almost bringing an immediate addition to the score and Henry then curling in a superb free-kick after Gianluca Zambrotta fouled Pires 20 yards out.
The Italians, who had already had to replace their midfield strongman Igor Tudor with Edgar Davids, managed nothing more of note before half-time except two yellow cards, Nedved receiving his for diving when he might have won a penalty under Matthew Upson's challenge.
The break the visitors craved and deserved did, however, materialise only five minutes after the interval. Taylor could do no more than prod out Del Piero's angled shot, giving Trézéguet the chance to shoot, and although Sol Campbell blocked on the line, his clearance hit the unfortunate goalkeeper and rolled almost apologetically back in.
So an 11th Champions' League game passed without Arsenal preserving a clean sheet, and their concern, as Juve pressed with renewed belief, was now to keep the damage to one goal. With Nicola Amoruso on to support Trézéguet, Del Piero dropped deeper and foraged ceaselessly, but the Campbell-Upson axis improving in conviction with each match held firm. Arsenal sensibly declined simply to sit back and with two minutes left, Ljungberg led a break of three against three, and deft footwork by Bergkamp, who outwitted two defenders with sleight of foot and flicked the ball through with the outside of his boot, set up the man with the red streak to continue a welcome scoring streak.
Three-one to the Arsenal; one-nil to the English in this week's jousts with Italian opposition. To be continued in Rome tonight and Milan tomorrow.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Taylor; Lauren, Campbell, Upson, Cole (Keown, 89); Ljungberg, Parlour, Vieira, Pires; Kanu (Bergkamp, 70), Henry (Grimandi, 85). Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Van Bronckhorst, Edu, Inamoto.
Juventus (4-4-2): Buffon; Birindelli, Thuram, Montero, Pessotto (Paramatti, 77); Zambrotta, Tudor (Davids, 22), Tacchinardi, Nedved (Amoruso, 72); Trézéguet, Del Piero. Substitutes not used: Rampulla (gk), Ferrara, Iuliano, Zenoni.
Referee: V Pereira (Portugal).