Arsenal FC looked destined to make it nine points from three games in UEFA Champions League Group H after captain Cesc Fàbregas struck in the first half, only for David Mendes da Silva to volley an equaliser for AZ Alkmaar in the third minute of added time.
The home side initially held their own, matching Arsenal in midfield, but failed to really test Vito Mannone in the visitors' goal. Arsenal struggled to create many clear-cut openings either yet still took the lead on 36 minutes when Fàbregas stroked in after linking superbly with Andrei Arshavin and Robin van Persie. The Dutch international came close to doubling his side's lead before and after the break, whereas AZ were only sporadically dangerous until Mendes da Silva struck, leaving his side in third place with two points, five behind leaders Arsenal who they visit on 4 November.
AZ hold their own
Arsenal almost took the lead on nine minutes when Van Persie gathered Abou Diaby's cross, cut inside and sent in a powerful shot from ten metres that forced a fine save from Sergio Romero. Despite the early chance for the visitors, AZ did not look like a team who had lost five of their last eight matches, winning the majority of challenges in midfield and keeping possession well. They nearly edged in front after 26 minutes, but Mounir El Hamdaoui's venomous drive from the edge of the box just cleared the bar. Three minutes later, Arshavin's clever curling shot dropped onto the roof of the net with Romero beaten.
Arsenal continued to probe the AZ defence and were rewarded nine minutes before the break. Arshavin dispossessed Niklas Moisander and released Van Persie, whose perfect centre was tapped into a gaping net by Fàbregas. Van Persie almost doubled his side's lead on 43 minutes, with Romero only just managing to deflect his thunderous shot over the top. The same player threatened first after half-time, but AZ's Argentinian international keeper got down well to palm his 25-metre free-kick away.
Van Persie threat
AZ were battling hard to get back into the match, but with an hour on the clock Mannone had not needed to make a save. Van Persie still seemed the most likely to score at the other end, but his drive on 63 minutes was high and wide. Ronald Koeman tried to break the pattern of the game by introducing striker Jeremain Lens for Maarten Martens soon after, but it was an Arsenal player who nearly brought the Dutch champions level, Diaby heading a Stijn Schaars corner onto the top of his own bar with just under 20 minutes to go.
The AZ coach upped the ante even further by replacing midfielder Brett Holman with forward Graziano Pellè, though it was a defender who came agonisingly close, Moreno toe-poking a Schaars free-kick millimetres wide with Mannone stranded. Just as Arsenal looked destined to leave with all three points, though, Pellè headed on a high ball into the box for Mendes da Silva to volley in an equaliser in the third minute of added time and earn his side a precious point.
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