By Richard Clarke in Moscow
Arsenal's run of six successive wins came to a juddering, shivering halt at CSKA Moscow this evening.
The Russian side pulled off a deserved win thanks to a first-half free-kick from Daniel Carvalho. Arsenal had been in great form in the build-up to this game and they were hardly outclassed on a bitterly cold night in Moscow. They might have grabbed a draw had Thierry Henry's late strike not been ruled out somewhat harshly for handball. However on the night they had been consistently beaten to the punch by an efficient, effective and perhaps underrated outfit.
Wenger's side are now second in Group G with six points from three games. That is one point behind CSKA. But with two of their remaining three matches at Emirates Stadium, Arsenal's fate is still in their own hands.
Wenger made two changes from the side that had beaten Watford on Saturday. Alexander Hleb and Robin van Persie stepped into the starting line-up with Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott dropping to the bench.
The formation was 4-5-1 with Henry operating as the lone striker, Van Persie and Hleb were the attacking wide men with Gilberto, Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky operating across the midfield.
Wenger was taking his Arsenal side to Moscow for the third time. Against Spartak on a freezing night in November 2000, Silvinho had given them the lead on a treacherous pitch before the home side came back to win 4-1. In the second game, Arsenal had played out a tame 0-0 draw at Lokomotiv in September 2003.
Tonight the conditions would be a mixture of the two. Once again the game was played at the Lokomotiv Stadium, the adopted home of CSKA in the Champions League, and another heavy pitch was really not suited to Arsenal's style. As for the temperature, it was below freezing but nothing like the -15 degrees experienced at Spartak six years ago.
CSKA were positive from the start with Wagner Love especially dangerous down the left. Arsenal's approach play was efficient but their moves broke down too often when it came to the final pass.
The home side were playing with three centre backs - Deivaidas Semberas and the Berezutskiy twins, Vasili and Aleksei. It proved to be a formidable barrier.
Although CSKA were edging the game, neither goalkeeper had seen much action before they took the lead in the 24th minute. Carvalho's shot was blocked and, in the melee on the edge of the area, Kolo Toure fouled Alexandro Dudu. Carvalho himself stepped up the drill a shot past Lehmann.
The Brazilian midfielder, who had played for his country at Emirates Stadium in August, was starting to look menacing. Before the half-hour he unleashed a left-foot shot from distance and Lehmann had to hastily turn the ball over the bar.
Just afterwards, Henry met Rosicky's deep cross with a tame header into the six-yard box. Apart from Gilberto's wild drive from distance, it was Arsenal's only effort so far.
They might have paid the ultimate penalty in the 34th minute when Love expertly flicked home Yuri Zhirkov's clever, low cross at the near post. Thankfully for Arsenal, the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
Late in the half, Arsenal rallied. Van Persie broke through the centre but his pass was just too strong for the overlapping Gallas.
Four minutes from the break, the Dutchman robbed Vasili Berezutskiy in the area but dawdled when he should have cut the ball back for waiting team-mates. CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev took the opportunity to smother the ball.
On the whistle, the sliding Gilberto nearly turned in Rosicky's cross at the far post. However Arsenal went into the interval with much room for improvement.
The first minutes after half time suggested that the visitors knew they had been below par in the opening 45 minutes. Henry and Gilberto tried to set up moves on the edge of the area. Each time their intricacy was blunted by the home defence.
In reality CSKA were looking just as likely to score. In the 53rd minute, only a superb tackle from Toure stopped Love going one-on-one in the area, then Lehmann saved from Carvalho at the near post. Just past the hour, Dudu's goalbound header was blocked by Djourou.
With 22 minutes left, Wenger brought on Adebayor for Van Persie and reverted to 4-4-2. It heralded a mini-revival from Arsenal. Toure's cute cross nearly set up Henry, then the centre back nearly turned in a header at the far post. In the 75th minute the Ivorian helped to set up Gilberto to nod home from close range but the flag had long since gone up for offside.
With four minutes left Arsenal thought they had the equaliser when Henry controlled a long free-kick and steered the ball home. Again the flag was raised and Henry was booked for handball. It looked like a close decision.
However Ivica Olic nodded just wide seconds later and only a superb sliding challenge from Fabregas stopped Dudu killing the game in the 90th minute. The final whistle followed soon afterwards.
Group G Team P W D L F A Pts CSKA Moscow 3 2 1 0 2 0 7 Arsenal 3 2 0 1 4 2 6 FC Porto 3 1 1 1 4 3 4 Hamburg 3 0 0 3 2 7 0
- Djourou 74
- Rosicky 80
- Henry Yellow Card
- Persie 67
- Clichy 74
- Walcott 80
- Adebayor 67
- Ignashevich Yellow Card
- Aldonin 90
- Carvalho 89 Goal!
- Rahimic Yellow Card
- Love 86 Yellow Card
- Taranov 89
- Krasic 90
- Olic 86