(PSV Eindhoven go through 2-1 on aggregate)
By Richard Clarke
Arsenal’s European adventure is over for another year.
A goal from Alex seven minutes from time proved decisive on a night of high drama and incredible tension at Emirates Stadium.
As anticipated, Arsenal dominated the game territorially while PSV defended deeply and waited to pounce on the break. The visitors’ tactics appeared to have backfired when Alex put through his own net in the 58th minute. Arsène Wenger’s side had been poised and patient up to this point and now, for the first time in the tie, they had real impetus behind them.
However, with extra time looming, PSV won a free-kick by the corner flag and Alex redeemed himself by rising high above Abou Diaby to divert a header into the far corner of the net.
It was a bitter disappointment for Wenger’s side having so nearly won the tournament last season. The key ties in that Champions League run had been based on getting a first leg lead and retaining it.
PSV managed to pull off precisely the same trick themselves this evening
Most of the pre-match concern centred on Thierry Henry’s selection. Wenger had declared the Arsenal captain “fit enough” to start despite his niggling foot/back problem but was not so sure if he’d choose him from the off.
In fact Henry was a substitute. And Wenger sprung a surprise elsewhere by keeping Gilberto and William Gallas as his centre back pairing with the returning Kolo Toure deployed at right back to look after his countryman, the lightning fast Arouna Kone.
The first chance of this pressure-cooker night at Emirates Stadium would involve those two players. Yet it was Toure who looked like the striker when he muscled off Kone in the area after two minutes. However his finish - a slashed drive wide — belonged to an out-and-out defender.
On the quarter-hour, a chip from Cesc Fabregas found Adebayor on the edge of the six-yard box. However Gomes was out quickly to smother.
The pattern of the game was turning out as predicted. Arsenal’s eager invention pushed back PSV but they struggled to penetrate. The visitors were reserved at the back and incisive when they got the glimpse of a break. You felt the first goal would be key.
Arsenal cranked up the pressure as the first half reached its midpoint. Toure’s low drive from the right was punched clear in unconvincing fashion by Gomes then Adebayor slid a header wide.
In the 25th minute Adebayor’s cutback from the touchline found Fabregas but the Spaniard’s point-blank effort blocked by Alex. The ball looped high into the air and was met with a vicious volley from Baptista as it fell. It flashed inches over the bar.
Arsenal were totally on top. The excellent Alex stifled Adebayor as he attempted to bundle through however just past the half-hour Edison Mendez crossed for the unmarked Philip Cocu to ghosted in a header. Emirates held its breath as the ball bounced wide.
But that chance was a small island in a tidal wave of Arsenal pressure. Before half time, Baptista’s overhead kick went wide and Adebayor continued to cause havoc with his direct front-running.
Five minutes from the interval, Jefferson Fanfan caught Gilberto dallying in the area but could not stay upright having won the ball. Immediately after that, Kone succumbed to the knee problem he had picked up midway through the half. Ibrahim Afelllay came off the bench and Fanfan became PSV’s lone frontman.
Wenger resisted the temptation to bring on Henry at the break. However when his Arsenal side had made little impression in the first 10 minutes of the second half the French striker went out to warm-up. Surely he would be on before long.
In the end Arsenal would get the opener without their talisman. In the 58th minute, Ljungberg won a corner on the left. Denilson took it and Adebayor beat keeper Gomes to the ball at the near post. It flew from his head, bounced off the startled Alex in the six-yard box and ricocheted into the net.
The tie had changed inexorably.
In the next few minutes were both incredible and excruciating in equal measure. Adebayor burst through but fired his shot straight at Gomes then Fabregas whistled a shot over the bar from distance. But inbetween those chances, an unmarked Fanfan fired a few feet wide and then the same player left Gallas sprawling before advancing in area. His run into the area was blocked by Denilson, who was the only Arsenal player protecting Jens Lehmann. Referee Alain Hamer waved away PSV’s penalty appeals and Arsenal managed to clear.
Henry replaced Baptista in the 66th minute. It gave Arsenal extra impetus and focus at a time when PSV’s defensive grip was starting to be prised apart. Wenger had been proved right to hold him back.
Fourteen minutes from time, substitute Diaby flicked on and Henry bundled the ball wide. The captain then curled over a free-kick which Gomes acrobatically pawed aside.
Arsenal still seemed the most likely team to score, albeit in extra-time. But, in the 83rd minute, Hleb gave a free-kick in the corner and Alex took the opportunity to power home a header at the near post.
Cocu’s low drive nearly won the game in the dying seconds. That, of course, would have ended Arsenal’s proud unbeaten run at Emirates Stadium.
Wenger’s team did not deserve that. They had shown guts, industry and urgency on a massive night for the Club.
PSV will prove to be the toughest of nuts to crack in the Quarter-Finals of this year’s Champions League.
Alas Arsenal will not be there.
- Clichy 85
- Julio Baptista 66
- Ljungberg 75
- Fabregas Yellow Card
- Diaby 75
- Walcott 85
- Henry 66
- Alex Goal!
- Féhér Yellow Card
- Mendez 92
- Kone 41
- Farfan 89
- Addo 89
- Vayrynen 92
- Afellay 41