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Brewin: Reds crash again at Palace

The Match about an hour ago
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Serie A heavyweights head-to-head

50-50 Challenge 2 days ago
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Sep 15, 2004

From tiny acorns...

It was far from vintage Arsenal. The swagger and confidence of the opening month of the Premiership campaign was some distance away, but most importantly they began their Champions League campaign with three points.

After the Gunners' traumatic opening to their 2003/04 campaign, when they slumped to a 3-0 home defeat to Inter Milan, it was vital that they avoided such a slip-up against PSV Eindhoven.

Manager Arsene Wenger has made it clear that Champions League success is vital if they are to be considered as one of the truly great teams. And last season's quarter-final defeat at the hands of Chelsea caused as much hurt as the Premiership title brought elation.

PSV's tactics were clear from the off. They came for the draw; playing Gerald Sibon as a lone striker and packing the midfield and aiming to keep it tight.

But Arsenal regularly caused the Dutch side problems and it was no surprise when the opener finally came just before the break, even if it was via the outstretched leg of defender Alex.

Following a strong first half, Arsenal found it hard going after the interval. And when PSV stepped up the pace in the final 20 minutes there was definite anxiety on the North Bank. Indeed, had substitute Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink not squandered a gilt-edged opportunity, after being picked out by Lee Young-Po, it could all have been so different.

There was little for the Arsenal fans to get excited about, and as such they did nothing to suggest Highbury has left its 'library' reputation behind. The atmosphere was very different last month when they claimed their 'unbeaten record' against Blackburn Rovers.

Although Arsenal will be determined to keep hold of their Premiership title, they must stamp their authority on Europe. There is no doubt they will enter the winter months - the wind suggested it had already arrived in north London on Tuesday - as a surefire bet to make the knockout stages once again. But when the competition has reached the business stage in the past they have faltered.

With PSV out of the way, Arsenal now wrestle with their away day demons. They will be expected to convincingly dispatch both Rosenborg and Panathinaikos, which should give the side renewed confidence on the European stage.

Although on a domestic level they have proved to be devastating there is a definite hesitancy, a lack of belief, when it comes to the Champions League.

But there really shouldn't be. PSV came to Highbury and played in much the same way many Premiership sides do by looking to keep the game tight with just the one man up front. As such, it remains puzzling that Arsenal find it hard to take the game to their opponents with the same verve and confidence.

They were, of course, stung badly against Chelsea in April. Perhaps too many players, as well as fans, were already contemplating a place in the semi-finals after the draw at Stamford Bridge - especially given their domination over their London rivals in recent seasons. And it is that complacency which looks to have added to their complex against continental sides.

Jose Antonio Reyes holds off DaMarcus Beasley
Jose Antonio Reyes holds off DaMarcus Beasley

Although the Gunners have not had to endured the most difficult of starts to the domestic season - facing Everton, Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Norwich and Fulham - they have still managed to blow away the opposition - scoring 19 goals in the process - without the considerable talents of skipper Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell.

Arsenal's strength in depth has now reached a new level, a factor which should aid their bid to conquer Europe.

Francesc Fabregas, the precocious 17-year-old who has performed so magnificently in the absence of Vieira, has now been confined to the bench. But his Champions League debut will come sooner rather than later as the games stack up in the next few weeks.

And the fact that the ever-improving Edu made only his second appearance of the season against PSV, after a prolonged absence due to international commitments with Brazil, serves to underline the overall strength of the squad.

The only area which may concern is the attack. There is a considerable reliance on Thierry Henry and the growing talent of Spanish forward Jose Antonio Reyes, but after that the options are few.

Although Dennis Bergkamp can certainly play as a front line forward, he is more accustomed to a deeper role in his twilight years. With Kanu and Sylvain Wiltord a distant memory, and promising striker Jeremie Aliadiere yet again facing a lengthy spell on the treatment table, the Gunners only have the untried Robin van Persie in reserve.

The former Feyenoord player appeared for the second half of the Community Shield victory over Manchester United, but he has yet to feature in a competitive fixture.

Wenger has been keen to emphasize the need to nurture the 21-year-old before bringing him into the English game, but his inclusion on the bench against PSV indicates that time is fast approaching. As with Fabregas, he will see first team action with the impending increased run of fixtures.

Arsenal could scarcely have wished for a better collection of opponents in Group E for their Champions League campaign. As such they must now go on and impose themselves on the competition.

A repeat of last season's uphill struggle is unimaginable.

They certainly have the squad, but there remains a question over their belief.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Dale Johnson.