Arsenal FC 0-2 RC Deportivo La Coruña
RC Deportivo La Coruña booked their place in the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Champions League with a display that combined flowing football with resilient defence to frustrate Arsenal FC in Group D.
Deportivo - who have now beaten both Arsenal and Manchester United FC home and away in the competition to secure an impressive double over English opposition - scored twice in a stunning spell of play before half-time and then defended stoutly to deny Arsenal, who even missed a penalty as they surged forward in vain.
Yet it was Arsenal, on a hot streak after scoring 14 goals in their previous four home games, who began the brightest. Just five minutes into the game, a spell of wonderful, fluid football almost resulted in the opening goal. Sylvain Wiltord passed inside to Thierry Henry, who laid the ball off for Robert Pires. But his first-time shot was well saved by José Molina.
At the other end, Deportivo captain Fran González went close with a dipping volley but it was Dennis Bergkamp who had the best of the early chances. The Dutchman juggled the ball past two defenders inside the Deportivo area after eleven minutes but arrowed a volley narrowly over the Spanish side's crossbar.
Arsenal's early promise began to fade, however, and after Igor Stepanovs failed to keep down his close-range header midway through the first-half, Deportivo took control. The visitors weathered the early storm and then stepped up a gear, catching Arsenal flat-footed.
On the half-hour Deportivo took the lead. Fran picked up a clever back-heel and fed Enrique Romero down the left-hand side. The full-back sped towards the by-line and pulled the ball back to Juan Valerón, who had time to take a touch, look up and curl a low shot past David Seaman into the far corner.
Seaman was forced into a remarkable point-blank save seven minutes later, blocking Valerón's right-foot volley after Diego Tristán's downward header. But five minutes before half-time the visitors doubled their lead. Arsenal's defence was in disarray, as a string of desperate challenges failed to clear the danger. The ball eventually fell to Nourredine Naybet, whose shot took a deflection and looped over Seaman into the net.
Deportivo's only second-half chance came on the hour through Víctor Sánchez, who was denied by Seaman, and from then on Arsenal pressed relentlessly. The 64th-minute introduction of Nwankwo Kanu and Fredrik Ljungberg looked to be the turning point for Arsenal, but despite getting a lift from the double substitution, they let a string of opportunities go begging.
Two minutes after coming on, Ljungberg's very first touch took the ball wide of Molina's despairing dive in the area. The goalkeeper was not cautioned by the referee, but a spot-kick was awarded. But Henry, searching for his eighth goal of the European campaign, was denied by Molina, who dived low to his right to block the Frenchman's weak penalty.
A minute later Arsenal had the ball in the net, but Kanu's close-range header was ruled out for pushing, and although Henry's late free-kick required Molina to be alert to save, from that point onwards, Deportivo's lead never looked in danger.
Tempers began to flare toward the end and a total of six players were booked, five of them on the visiting side. As a result, Lionel Scaloni and Víctor Sánchez will both miss Deportivo's home game against Bayer 04 Leverkusen next Wednesday. But with qualification already assured, that will not bother the Spanish side unduly. The pressure is now on Arsenal, who must match Leverkusen's result in Spain next week when they take on Juventus FC in Turin if they are to join Deportivo in the last eight.