Arsenal conquer Spanish jinxTuesday 24 February 2004
By Graham Hunter at the Balaídos
Arsenal moved within touching distance of place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final with an inspirational 3-2 win in Spain against RC Celta de Vigo, their first success in seven attempts on Spanish soil.
With the game seemingly heading for a draw, Arsenal's Robert Pires exchanged passes with Thierry Henry on the edge of the Celta penalty area and slid the ball beyond goalkeeper Pablo Cavallero to give the London side the edge. With three away goals, the Premiership leaders will be confident of progressing in the second leg on 10 March.
Defenders under pressure
Radomir Antic's tactics were clear from the kick-off, as Celta looked to stretch Arsenal's back four. With Peter Luccin winning good central midfield possession, pass after pass was threaded wide to Edu on the left and Ángel López on the right. Initially Arsenal's full-backs, Lauren and Gael Clichy - the latter making his Champions League debut - were stretched. However, Arsène Wenger's side resisted stoutly and waited patiently for the storm to abate.
In fact the English team created the game's first good opportunity when instinctive link-up play between Thierry Henry and new signing José Antonio Reyes left the Spanish striker with a clear sight of goal. Pablo Cavallero saved easily from Reyes' weak effort but moments later he was retrieving the ball from the net.
Celta had just created their first chance, with a combination of two fine tackles from Clichy and Sol Campbell preventing Savo Milosevic from getting a shot in from ten metres out, when Arsenal broke upfield and scored. José Ignacio Sáenz, scorer of Celta's winning goal in Milan in the group stage, conceded a needless free-kick on the right touchline.
Robert Pires flighted it on to the head of Arsenal's Edu who took the rebound from his first effort and poked it past Cavallero. In doing so his knee slid on and connected with the goalkeeper's face, leaving Cavallero needing five minutes of treatment before he was able to continue.
Just as Arsenal looked like taking control of the game, they were pegged back nine minutes later. Patrick Vieira brought down José Ignacio and from Silvinho's expertly flighted free-kick Celta's Edu leapt gracefully and powered a terrific header beyond Jens Lehmann.
The German goalkeeper saved Arsenal from going a goal down eight minutes before the break. His own clearance was weak, José Ignacio fed Edu's run and after the Spanish midfield player cut across two defenders it took an excellent full-length dive from Lehmann to keep the scores level.
Celta began the second half in positive fashion, with Edu regularly beating Clichy down the left, and from one of his crosses Aleksandr Mostovoi's header rebounded off the crossbar with Lehmann beaten. It took a perfectly judged tackle from Campbell to prevent the Russian from scoring the rebound.
At the other end, Arsenal should have taken the lead when Henry and Reyes combined for the Spaniard's shot to be spilled by Cavallero, only for Henry to slice the follow-up wide. Yet the visitors seized control of the tie with their second away goal when Edu danced round two tackles, changed his stance elegantly and bent a wonderful right foot shot past Cavallero and into the top corner.
However, Celta fought back immediately when Sergio Fernández's downward header from a corner fell neatly to José Ignacio who controlled and instinctively stabbed the ball past Lehmann for 2-2. Arsenal would doubtless have been satisfied with that, but Pires's late effort put them firmly in control of the tie.
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