It took just 21 seconds for any tactical plans to be thrown out of the window in the UEFA Champions League battle between PSV Eindhoven and Arsenal FC on Wednesday, which ended 4-0 in the latter side's favour.
Beforehand, PSV had chosen offensive tactics that they hoped would counter opponents who were without a win in their last eight Champions League matches away from home. But a moment of sloppiness from Swiss international Johann Vogel gave Fredrik Ljungberg the opportunity to send Thierry Henry away. His centre brought an astonishingly early lead for the Londoners, Brazilian Gilberto turning the ball home. From that moment on, PSV knew that they had a mountain to climb.
Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger surprised everyone with an attacking lineup. Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry operated as central strikers, with the support of offensive colleagues in Sylvain Wiltord, Ljungberg and Gilberto. Meanwhile, PSV counterpart Guus Hiddink only changed his left flank, where old hand Jan Heintze was posted as left-back, with Wilfred Bouma in front of him to maintain the pressure on the Arsenal right.
But Vogel had an off-day and was replaced in the 26th minute by Brazilian youngster Leandro. This meant that the PSV defence was kept busy for the first part of the match and that captain Mark van Bommel faced an impossible task to nullify Arsenal's central-midfield players, Gilberto and Patrick Vieira. Hiddink's early decision to introduce Leandro led to a more defensive role for Van Bommel. After the break, with the injured Kevin Hofland staying in the dressing room, Van Bommel was pushed into central defence alongside André Ooijer.
In the first quarter of the second half, Arnold Bruggink and Leandro tried to inspire the PSV midfield and, when Theo Lucius replaced Heintze, Leandro moved to the left flank. After all of the changes, Hiddink ultimately used four different pairings in midfield. "I brought in Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to replace Kevin Hofland to give us more power up front, but it didn't work out the way I wished," explained the PSV coach. "With our deficit, it was the only thing that I could do. Everyone saw that we were without any chance in the second half."
This victory on foreign soil should give Arsenal confidence for the coming matches. Wenger dared to start with an attacking lineup in Eindhoven - and the Frenchman might be tempted to adopt the same policy in future away games if this impressive performance is anything to go by.
KEY PLAYER: Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
With two goals and one assist, Henry was a permanent threat to the PSV defence, and his perfect performance was finally rewarded with goals after 81 minutes and deep into added time.
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