Wenger anxious to find the real Arsenal again

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The Independent Online

The ubiquity of the mobile phone should have made sitting at one football match monitoring events at another more straightforward, but, as is often the case, Arsenal's followers in the Olympic stadium in Munich on Wednesday night found duff information filtering through the ether.

The ubiquity of the mobile phone should have made sitting at one football match monitoring events at another more straightforward, but, as is often the case, Arsenal's followers in the Olympic stadium in Munich on Wednesday night found duff information filtering through the ether.

Their initial celebrations, based on the false premise that the other Group C match, between Spartak Moscow and Lyon, had finished in the desired draw proved premature. There was still time, after Arsenal had conceded a 1-0 defeat to Bayern, for Lyon's Sidney Govou to miss the glorious scoring chance that would have taken his side into the Champions' League quarter-final at the expense of Arsÿne Wenger's team.

Wenger, who had not wanted to be distracted earlier on by news from Moscow, then found himself pacing up and down by the side of the pitch for four minutes "which felt like 90" before receiving official confirmation that Lyon had turned into lambs when it really mattered, and Arsenal were through to the last eight. Only then could the genuine celebrations begin, muted as they were both in the stands and the dressing-room, in acknowledgment of an inexplicably tepid performance.

Even the manager was unable to explain the display. "We didn't see the real Arsenal," he admitted. "Was it too much pressure? Or a psychological problem? I don't know." The best he could offer was that Bayern (who have been under enormous pressure themselves from the media, supporters and even their own president, Franz Beckenbauer) defended in depth after scoring early on. Needing only a draw, they were entitled to, though that hardly explained their 12 attempts on goal to Arsenal's six.

Statistics from the final Group C table are equally unimpressive. Last season Dynamo Kiev failed to qualify for the quarter-finals with 10 points; Arsenal have scraped in with eight, winning only two of their six games, of which the critical one away to Lyon was distinctly fortunate. The only other success was also by 1-0, at home to Spartak last week.

Thierry Henry, who scored a late goal then but rarely threatened in Munich, was complaining on Wednesday night about having to play an FA Cup tie against Chelsea on the Sunday before the home game with Lyon, in contrast to arrangements in other countries, where teams in Europe have weekend games brought forward, rather than put back at television's behest.

He would have enjoyed playing in England a few years ago, when Arsenal once had three League games in five days over Easter plus a European semi-final against Juventus 48 hours later.

After this Sunday's fixture at Aston Villa and a "break" for internationals, Henry and his colleagues had better prepare themselves for another intense period, with Premiership and FA Cup matches against Tottenham on either side of the Champions' League quarter-final first leg, at home to one of Spain's finest.

As the French striker put it: "You just have to look at the three teams to see how tough it's going to be. We made it hard for ourselves, but what matters is that we're though."

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