By Richard Clarke at the Gelredome, Arnhem
Although the Twente questions had been searching, Arsenal managed to smuggle a vital 2-0 victory back from Arnhem on Wednesday night.
Arsène Wenger's weakened side were on the rack for most of this Champions League third qualification round first leg tie. Steve McClaren, in his first competitive game since England's defeat to Croatia last November, had asked his team to tear into Arsenal from the first whistle and they responded in style.
The visitors were on the back foot for most of the opening period and only really started to look the part when William Gallas turned in Robin van Persie's free-kick in the 63rd minute.
Eight minutes from time, Emmanuel Adebayor added another to give the result a gloss Arsenal's performance did not deserve.
But they do deserve credit for their tenacity determination and professionalism on a night when, for once, Wenger's men struggled to find their rhythm
This was the third time Arsenal have been in the qualifying stages, the third time they have been drawn away first and the third time they have brought a significant lead home.
However this was the third time Wenger's men have been in the qualifying stages, the third time they have been drawn away first and the third time they have won 2-0.
This result has paved the way to the group stages twice before and it should do so again this year.
But this had been by far the toughest test.
Wenger selected the side widely predicted. With nine players absent for one reason or another, he did not have much choice. Aaron Ramsey, just 17, came in for his debut. His 'senior' partner in central midfield was 20-year-old Denilson.
The full list of absentees was Philippe Senderos (hamstring), Kolo Toure (hip), Cesc Fabregas (hamstring), Abou Diaby (thigh), Samir Nasri (knee/thigh), Eduardo (leg), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring), Amaury Bischoff (groin) and Alex Song (Olympics participation). As a result Wenger had to draw on the best of his youngsters. There were two teenagers in the starting line-up and the average age the Arsenal bench was a little over 19 years six months.
Twente had been forced to play this game at Vitesse Arnhem's Gelredome due to redevelopment work at their own ground. The move did nothing to dent the atmosphere before kick-off. The teams walked out to 'You'll never walk alone' and the opening stages were backed by feverish drums and bellowing songs from the Twente fans behind Manuel Almunia's goal.
And the home side seemed determined to match that pace early on.
Twente started like a runaway train as they tore into Arsenal in the first quarter of an hour. They had little to show for it apart from Romano Denneboom's header past the far post. But the Dutch side had shown they were not going to be in awe of their more illustrious opponents during this tie. And the first half would continue in that vein.
In the 18th minute, Luke Wilkshire robbed Theo Walcott in the centre circle and Theo Janssen sent Eljero Elia clear in the left-hand channel. Almunia managed to beat the Dutch Under-21 international to the ball and Arsenal mopped up the danger. But, yet again, the pace and sheer brute force of Twente had stretched the visitors.
By the midway point of the first half, Arsenal had forced a couple of corners but that was about it. They were struggling.
And in the 24th minute, they nearly fell behind. Denneboom ghosted past Denilson on the edge of the area and hastily hacked a shot over the bar. It was the first time Twente had truly prised Arsenal open but the 27-year-old lost his head and, with it, his chance.
The youth of Wenger's central midfield had been a worry before the game and certainly Arsenal were rarely retaining the ball for long. In the 31st minute Ramsey did send a speculative effort way over the bar from 30 yards. It was perhaps the first time Twente keeper Sander Boschker had needed even a flutter of concern.
But in the 36th minute the concern was all Arsenal's. Denneboom nudged Marko Arnautovic clear through the middle. However the striker's first touch was heavy and Almunia made the save. You sensed that might have been a key moment.
The game was starting to open up and Arsenal immediately went up the other end to create two clear-cut chances for an unlikely lead. First Van Persie bodyswerved himself some space on the right of the area but Cheick Tiote had to nod away from under his own bar. Then, from the corner, Boschker spilled Clichy's long-range thunderbolt and Sagna sliced the rebound past the post.
Four minutes from the break, Clichy explicably gave the ball to Arnautovic but the 19-year-old Austrian showed his youth by blazing the ball horribly wide.
It has been a torrid first half from an Arsenal's perspective.
The signs were better after the restart. Van Persie had an early drive blocked and on the hour Eboue went clear for a second only to be bundled off the ball before he could get a shot away.
In between those efforts, Twente had enjoyed plenty of pressure and were still peppering the Arsenal area. However there were noticeably fewer alarms for Almunia.
Although Arsenal were improving, it is right to say the visitors 'stole' the lead in the 63rd minute. Edson Braffheid hauled down Eboue on the right and Van Persie threaded a free-kick low into the heart of the area. It found Gallas at the near post and the captain bundled the ball home off his knee.
It was a scruffy but crucial away goal.
The strike left Twente subdued and Arsenal started to exude more confidence.
Eleven minutes from time Elia nudged the ball inside for Arnautovic to prod a shot into the sidenetting. But it would be the home side’s last real effort.
In the 83rd minute, Walcott set up Adebayor to slot in the second from close range.
The goal was testament to Arsenal's self-belief. The performance could be improved upon but, in difficult circumstances, they had done their job.
Despite the second goal, the home crowd kept singing and the home side kept going but, after that, their challenge was spents.
Twente will no doubt take much from this game. As for Arsenal, the result looks better on paper than it did on the night and perhaps that is all that matters.
That, and qualification to the group stages of course.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
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