Just what has happened to Arsenal’s Champions League away form?
Arsenal fans were looking for a derby hangover cure in Europe - they didn’t get it as the Gunners lost 2-0 in Braga to put last 16 qualification under threat
SO much for focusing on Europe, then. Arsenal left Braga beaten and bruised on Tuesday night as the required swift antidote to Saturday’s woes turned into a double dose of misery.
At least the north London derby had been exciting. This game was dour in the extreme until two goals and a hotly disputed penalty decision in the final 15 minutes completed Braga’s remarkable transformation in Group H.
After two games the Portuguese side, thrashed 6-0 at the Emirates on matchday one, were bottom having not scored and conceded nine goals.
Now they are within reach of qualifying after three successive victories; five goals scored, none conceded.
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Suddenly everywhere Arsenal look there is uncertainty, although at least Arsene Wenger can be comforted with the knowledge that victory in the final group game, against whipping boys Partizan at the Emirates, will be enough to see them qualify, and perhaps still even top the group.
How it has come down to the final game though is almost beyond comprehension. Until you study Arsenal’s away record in the Champions League over the past 12 months.
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The 3-2 win against Partizan in Belgrade is Arsenal’s only success in their last six away trips in Europe, the other five have all ended in defeat. It is a depressing statistic that does not bode well for the knockout stages of this competition, should they get there.
Two late goals from the Brazilian striker Matheus sank the Gunners on Tuesday, and although Wenger justifiably pointed to an incredible decison from the Hungarian referee, Viktor Kassai, who booked Carlos Vela for a dive when he was quite clearly felled in the penalty box by Alberto Rodriguez, just before Braga’s first goal.
“The penalty decision changed the game,” said a frustrated Wenger afterwards. “We are going through a period of bad luck at the moment.
“But as long as you don’t score a goal that can happen and in the end we got caught. The players looked tired and have played a lot of games, I have no choice but to rotate.”
It was almost a different XI from Saturday’s defeat asWenger made seven changes from the side who so dramatically lost Saturday’s derby.
Of the four players who did retain their place in the side, Cesc Fabregas was the surprising one with Wenger having suggested that he would not take a risk on his captain. It is one of many decisions Wenger appears to have got wrong in the past week.
Fabregas went close with a free-kick in a first half that saw Theo Walcott miss Arsenal’s two best chances of the night and the recalled Nicklas Bendtner struggle up front. But the Gunners seemed reasonably comfortable in the second half, until Fabregas signalled to the bench he could not continue on 68 minutes.
Wenger also threw on Marouane Chamakh and Vela late on - attacking substitutions when a point would have secured qualification. It was a move he was to regret when Emmanuel Eboue was stretchered off in agony and Arsenal were left with 10 men after Matheus’s first goal.
An equaliser never looked likely after that, and the striker added a sublime second when he twisted Kieran Gibbs inside out and rifled a shot past Lukasz Fabianksi and in off the crossbar to complete Arsenal’s pain.
Not reaching the last 16 for the first time in 11 years is almost unthinkable, but realistically Partizan at the Emirates is as close to a home banker as you can get in European football.
But Arsenal have made a meal of this group and missed the chance to rectify the horrors of Saturday. It is not a happy place to be at the moment.