By Trevor Haylett in London
It was a surprise last season when Arsenal FC failed to make it beyond the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Another campaign finds the leaders of the English Premiership currently in even worse order on the European stage with two defeats and a goalless draw from their first three games.
For a team blessed with so many great players and seeded as high as five when the draw was made, it is mystifying why the Gunners have performed so poorly, particularly as, in their domestic league, they remain the only unbeaten side. Rooted to the foot of Group B, three points adrift of the third-placed team, they know they have to win tonight's return fixture against FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Asked to explain the stark contrast between their form at home and in Europe, midfield player Fredrik Ljungberg admitted that the players were as baffled as anyone else. "We are not really sure, otherwise we would not have lost the games we have done in Europe," he said.
'We are a good team'
We have a lot of European players and we want to make a great impact in this tournament. We think we are a good team playing in the Premiership and with the quality we have in the squad we should qualify from the group. It is up to us to perform, starting with the game against Kyiv and win the last three matches, starting tonight against Kyiv."
The Swedish international believes the situation in the group will help Arsenal achieve a first Champions League victory in nine attempts. "We normally play a bit better when our backs are against the wall," he said. "We know what is at stake and of course we feel the pressure of the situation but we have players who raise their game when under pressure. We have a lot of respect for Kyiv and they played well in the first game but we hope and think we can win."
Need for speed
Certainly Arsenal could not have wished for a more emphatic way to tune up for the challenge of the Ukrainian double winners than last Saturday's 4-1 win at Leeds United AFC at Elland Road. And Ljungberg believes the key behind that success could hold the answer to an improvement in their Champions League fortunes. "Against Leeds we used our pace a lot more than before this season in either the Premiership or in Europe. Hopefully we will take that with us into the Kyiv game so that we play a quick game with not so many touches."
His ability to poach goals in and around congested penalty areas has contributed to Arsenal's success in recent seasons but in Europe he is without a strike since September last year. Six of Arsenal's ten goals in the intervening period have come from Thierry Henry and Ljungberg is conscious that it would only benefit the team if the goals were spread around a bit more.
"It's great that Thierry has been scoring but maybe we play a little bit too much into his runs," he said. "
It is up to the other players to take more responsibility and score but as long as someone scores it is not a problem. We created a lot of chances in Kiev and failed to take them and that is one area where we definitely must improve."
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