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Gunners continue to misfire

A cloud of pessimism is hanging over Highbury as this grand old theatre puts on its final handful of performances.

Were it not for a 91st minute winner from Dennis Bergkamp, Swiss no-hopers FC Thun would have collected a glorious point on their Champions League debut and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger can only hope his fortunate victory will spark this multi-talented group of players into life.

With two defeats already under their belts in the Premiership, the side who looked invincible just 12 months ago are being written off as title has-beens, with talk of this being a transitional year never far away when Arsenal come under the microscope.

Listening to some of the top journalists in the land chewing the fat and the chicken wings on offer at this game, you would be forgiven for thinking Arsene Wenger's men are set for a relegation battle this season.

Sure, they have had a disappointing start to the campaign, but should still be a team to be reckoned with, one of the best in England and among the top eight seeds for this season's Champions League.

While Patrick Vieira's departure to Juventus is hailed as the catalyst for their demise, you wonder how a side featuring Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Freddie Ljungberg, Jose Antonio Reyes, Dennis Bergkamp and Ashley Cole can really be described as crisis-torn.

Amid this mood of gloom, Soccernet's Insider came to Highbury keen to promote the theory that form is temporary, class is permanent.

So why not offer the suggestion that Arsenal could mark their final season at Highbury by being crowned European champions for the first time? An extravagant statement, granted, but ahead of kick-off in this game, I could offer a genuine explanation as to why the dream could become reality.

Arsenal should finish ahead of Ajax, Sparta Prague and tonight's opponents, FC Thun, in this comfortable group and if they do make it into the last 16, their focus could be channelled entirely on this competition.

With their hopes of catching Chelsea in the Premiership likely to be over by Christmas, Wenger may have the chance to rest his star players for league games and unleash his full armoury against the cream of the continent.

Over recent years, Thierry Henry, in particular, has looked jaded in Champions League ties and if he can find his top form in this competition, it may be enough to finally end Wenger's long-term goal of European glory.

Such lavish ideas were thought about before reality hit home. Once the first whistle blew in this game, we were all reminded of the struggles this side continue to endure in the Champions League.

Lacking a cutting edge without the injured Henry, they rarely looked like breaking down the defences of FC Thun and it is hard to argue that they didn't deserve the remarkable point they came within two minutes of collecting.

Once again, Arsenal's inability to employ an alternative game plan when their all-out attacking fails to deliver is curious and their insistence on scoring the perfect goal is infuriating. Robert Pires and Reyes are among the most guilty in this area.

That FC Thun employed something akin to a flat back six, with two holding midfielders to boot, meant it was never going to be easy to break them down, yet Arsenal should have had the class to do just that and in the end, they found themselves running down a host of dead ends.

Robert Pires, Kolo Toure and Cesc Fabregas went close with decent efforts in the first half before this game took a sinister twist second before the break as Robin van Persie was sent off for a high tackle on Alen Orman.

The decision looked harsh, but European referees seem to have a complex about tackles above ankle height and Van Persie fell foul of that law.

What should have been a comfortable workout for Arsenal rapidly developed into a nightmare, though the pattern of the game was hardly altered by Van Persie's departure.

Thun's 'defend at all costs' policy was not altered at the break and just six minutes into the second half, 10-man Arsenal found a route to goal as Gilberto rose in the box to head his side into a lead.

You suspected it was game over, but just 90 seconds later, Nelson Ferreira hooked a misdirected cross into the box that found its way into the top corner of the Arsenal goal and the Swiss journalists around leapt to their feet in delight.

At this point, the need to review my 'Arsenal can win the Champions League' theory was pressing and if Thun's Tiago Bernardi had finished when he had a clear chance in the box moments later, the idea that they will stroll through this opening group phase would have been laughable.

Some of the Arsenal players on show earn more in a week than their opponents earn in two years and that statement puts the scale of what should have been a mismatch into perspective. Yet it wasn't so obvious on the pitch.

When Ljungberg missed from close range with 20 minutes to go, the prospect of this bunch of hard working battlers picking up a point at Highbury edged closer and were it not for a rare piece of grafting in the box, as Bergkamp won the ball to slot home a dramatic late winner, embarrassment would have been the emotion washing over Arsene Wenger.

'We showed a lot of character and quality and when you are playing 10 against 11, it was always going to be difficult,' said the Arsenal boss. 'At 1-0, it looked as if we were on track, but they scored an incredible goal. How they scored the goal is ridiculous. The guy wanted to cross the ball and it went in the top corner. What can you do?

'The important thing was we won the game tonight. Losing at Middlesbrough on Saturday was a blow and I hope we can take this result on and build on it both in the Champions League and the Premiership. We have room for improvement, but that is always the case.'

Wenger's anger at the red card shown to Van Persie was obvious. 'It was the wrong decision,' he fumed. 'He challenged for the ball, the opponent dipped his head and somehow the referee sees it as a red card. It was an accident. Then you have the challenge of playing with a man down, which is never easy, especially in this competition.'

Arsenal got out of jail tonight and while their challenge will be very different against side's with even a hint of attacking intent, only the introduction of a genius could transform them from European chumps to champs - step forward Thierry Henry.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Freddie Ljungberg - An energetic performance from the Swede who has the sort of killer instinct some in this Arsenal side appear to be lacking. Why Wenger decided to take him off for the later stages is anyone's guess.

FOOD WATCH: The Highbury meat pies were up to their usual standard and receiving table service for post match drinks was hugely impressive.

FAN WATCH: Arsenal proved they are a genuinely big club by selling out a game that didn't look too inspiring on paper. Unlikely Chelsea, this club have enough fans to fill a stadium for any occasion.

ARSENAL VERDICT: Soccernet's Insider may have arrived at this game with positive vibes with respect to Arsenal's European hopes - they have all evaporated after a night of rare frustration.

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