Arsenal's wretched record when crossing the Channel continued with a deserved defeat in the opening game of their Champions' League second phase last night. They ran aground on the rocks of Galicia's "coast of death", taking a dismal run to six successive away losses in the competition, with only one goal scored, which makes it all the more imperative to win in two weeks' time at home to Juventus, whose tie with Bayer Leverkusen in Turin was postponed until next Wednesday because of fog.
David Seaman's understudy, Richard Wright, who was not fully fit, conceded two goals with less than half an hour played, and had to be replaced for the second half, in which Arsenal pushed forward more without ever threatening to take a point. Their manager Arsène Wenger, looking unusually downcast, blamed the second goal on his goalkeeper's fitness and conceded that "it was the wrong decision to play him". He did not agree, however, that the tactics were also less than perfect, with Sylvain Wiltord used as a fifth midfielder through the whole of the first half, even after Arsenal desperately needed a goal.
"Wright had a knee problem from a few weeks ago," Wenger added. "We were told he would be alright but the second goal was down to his injury. You could see at the start that we didn't have the confidence to get a result away from home. We started a little bit too apprehensively. But it would have been a different story if we had gone in 0-0 at half-time."
Alas, it was the same old tale, with an even worse twist: an early goal conceded, followed on this occasion by another. Wenger had demanded a strong start, not a passive one, hoping for once to seize the initiative or, at least, to prevent the opposition from doing so. The Spanish league leaders had other ideas and within 25 minutes the steeply banked stadium, in which noise levels were increased by a student demonstration just outside the main stand, was rocking to celebrations of two goals.
In the eighth minute, Diego Tristan, the striker described as a bullfighter by Deportivo's coach Javier Irureta, played the matador with the Arsenal defence before hitting a dangerous shot that Sol Campbell cleared no further than Roy Makaay. The Dutchman's drive from 15 yards reared up off the ground to beat Wright.
The damage was twice as bad with little more than a quarter of the game played. This time Tristan received the ball way out beyond the right-hand corner of Arsenal's penalty area and as Lauren and Campbell both stood off, he suddenly unleashed a low shot that beat Wright at his near post. It was a poor, poor goal to concede the latest in a series of gaffes by the £6m goalkeeper and left the London side with a monumental task at a venue at which Manchester United and Leeds United had both been beaten in the past two seasons. There was little doubt thereafter that a talented Deportivo side would complete the hat-trick of English victims.
All that the visitors had managed at that stage was a header by Matthew Upson across goal from a corner by Giovanni van Bronckhorst and a weak shot by Robert Pires, set up by Thierry Henry. By half-time, Pires had put an equally unconvincing header straight at the goalkeeper, Francisco Molina, and Henry had summed up his team's frustration by collecting a yellow card for lashing the ball into the crowd after a poor pass. The only encouragement for them was that Tristan was taken off with a hamstring injury soon after scoring.
Makaay, also struggling with a knock, made way for the Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani five minutes into the second half, but Arsenal made the more dramatic change, replacing Wright with Stuart Taylor. The 20 year-old has only one previous European tie and a Worthington Cup appearance to his name and will almost certainly have to make a Premiership debut against Manchester United at Highbury on Sunday.
Pandiani might have beaten him twice in the third quarter of the game, first heading a right-wing cross wide and then shooting past the angle after Arsenal failed to clear a centre by the left-back Enrique Romero.
Wenger's team had more of the ball after the interval, with Patrick Vieira playing a captain's role and having their only two chances until Henry's last-minute free-kick. He was one of their dispiritingly few successes and the necessary goals rarely looked like arriving.
Deportivo La Coruña (4-4-2): Molina; Scaloni, Donato, Naybet, Romero; Valeron (Cesar, 73), Mauro Silva, Emerson, Victor; Makaay (Pandiani, 50), Tristan (Amavisca, 27). Substitutes not used: Nuno (gk), Djalminha, Capdevila, Duscher.
Arsenal (4-5-1): Wright (Taylor, h-t); Lauren, Campbell, Upson, Cole; Wiltord (Kanu, 73), Pires, Vieira, Van Bronckhorst (Edu, 78), Ljungberg; Henry. Substitutes not used: Stepanovs, Parlour, Grimandi, Inamoto.
Referee: T Hauge (Norway).Reuse content