A SUPERB goal from Marc Overmars was cancelled out by an injury time
equaliser by Lens forward Tony Vairelles in France on Wednesday night.
The result is not a bad one for Arsenal by any means, but this was a
match we ultimately could and should have won.
We were still going
forward in the 90th minute when Nicolas Anelka burst forward into a
clear shooting position and Overmars cracked another shot against the
Lens cross bar. But as the Arsenal fans celebrated Lens came back one
final time.They won a corner after David Seaman had saved superbly from
an Eric Sikora free-kick and then Vairelles stabbed home from close range
when the dead ball was knocked back in.
It was, in football terms, a
tragic end to an heroic performance by the Gunners.Overmars had earlier
sent the travelling Arsenal fans over the moon when he scored his
outstanding goal in the 50th minute. The finish was straightforward, but
the build-up was beautiful in it's simplicity as Anelka slipped a silky
pass to Petit who then hit a perfectly aimed and weighted ball to split
the Lens defence and allow Overmars to shoot without breaking
Now, you could hear the Arsenal sing. The atmosphere was
remarkable from an hour before kick off, for a stadium which holds just
over 30,000, and rarely dipped below fever pitch.But it was almost
impossible to hear the 4,000-strong Arsenal contingent above the
incessant clapping, chanting, drum banging and trumpet blowing of the
That is, until Overmars hit the back of the net.And he
so nearly added a second goal just five minutes later when he worked
himself some space on the edge of the area with a twisting run and
drilled a low shot against the foot of a post.Those two chances had come
hot on the back of a Dennis Bergkamp double. The Dutchman
struck from almost identical areas on the right of the Lens area but
goalkeeper Guillame Warmuz saved at his near post on both
Sensibly, if unexpectedly, Arsenal refused to shut up shop for
the rest of the game and although Lens began to throw more men forward
we still looked the team most likely to score any next goal.That is,
until Lens were awarded a free-kick with 20 minutes to go and Sikora
curled a shot smack against David Seaman's cross bar. An inch lower and
it wold have been all square.
Anelka missed a great chance to kill the
game a minute later though and he will be disappointed to have had his
shot saved from eight yards out after a fine run and pass from Ray
Parlour.More disappointment followed almost immediately when Emmanuel
Petit had to be carried off on a stretcher and was replaced by Stephen
Hughes. Lens' Michael Debeve was booked for his challenge which put
Petit out although the injury appeared to be a repeat of the shin
problem which had threatened to keep our French World Cup winner out of
the starting line-up.
The entire Felix Bolleart stadium crowd rose to
cheer his name as he was carried off.In fact, there had not been a
minute's silence since the very first minute when Stephane Dalmat found
space in the Arsenal area and seemed set to score. Thankfully, Lee Dixon
was aware of the danger and cleared for a corner with Dalmat poised to
Anelka showed almost instantly that we can be just as dangerous
going forward though and the Highbury teenager, looking to win a place
in the senior French side, went on to have an excellent first half. He
could have made it a perfect night had he not blasted over the bar in
the 83rd minute.
Petit had recorded our first shot on goal, albeit a
low mis hit, which Warmuz saved comfortably in the 6th minute. Lens
continued to show great pace on the break but the match settled into a
midfield battle for the next 10 mins with neither side on top.Then
Anelka broke the spell when he ran onto a superbly weighted Bergkamp
pass and it took a brilliant tackle from Lens' Frederic Dehu to prevent
Super Nic from slotting the ball past Warmuz.
Dixon had a go with a
hopeful left foot shot seconds later.Lens did not get back into our area
until they broke from defence in the 27th minute and it took a brave
diving header from Dixon to clear the threat.Lens got stronger nearer
half-time and Seaman made one excellent near post stop from a Tony
Vairelles shot from wide on the left.
Vairelles went closer still in the
37th minute when he stabbed a shot inches wide from 12 yards.But the
match changed course after the break as Bergkamp softened the French up
and then Overmars gave them a taste of Arsenal's double Dutch treatment
to continued his run of scoring crucial goals in important matches.And
it looked like being the winner until that last gasp equaliser.
Still, one Champions League game down, five to go and I'm now looking forward
to each and everyone of them. Make no mistake, Arsenal can and will win
at this level.
Arsene Wenger said:
"I am very pleased with our performance, particularly in the second half when we
created a lot of chances. But I am disappointed with only one point, because I thought we
were good enough to win"
"Petit has a badly bruised ankle and is doubtful for Sunday's game"
"We have the potential to go through to the next stage and if we play like that again, we could win it"