By Trevor Haylett in London
Internazionale FC launched their challenge for the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League with a stunning 3-0 victory at Highbury against highly rated Arsenal FC.
The game proved a triumph for the Italian team's stand-in strike partnership with Julio Cruz and Obafemi Martins both finding the net in a first half in which Andy van der Meyde also scored. For last season's losing semi-finalists it was a result beyond their expectations, whereas for Arsenal it was their sixth Champions League home game without a win - and they missed a penalty to boot.
As expected, Arsène Wenger restored the three players rested at the weekend, Fredrik Ljungberg, Gilberto and Sylvain Wiltord all taking their place in an attack-minded lineup. For Inter, with Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba missing, Héctor Cúper paired summer signing Cruz in attack alongside teenager Martins.
The London side, mindful that they had not won a home fixture in this competition in five attempts, were sprightly at the start with Thierry Henry showing all his delightful touches as he tried to bring his colleagues into play. Inter were glad that Fabio Cannavaro also appeared to be at the top of his game, a number of well-judged challenges helping to give the visitors a look of solid resistance.
Inter take over
Arsenal had two or three promising moments, notably when Ljungberg veered inside only to place his shot at Francesco Toldo. Then the Italians took over, scoring twice in two minutes to stake an early hold on the game. The first surprised Arsenal following a throw. Martins directed a header into the path of Cruz and his finish was nicely executed, just lifting the ball over the lunging Jens Lehmann.
Then Kily González got clear down the same left flank and although Sol Campbell got a head to the cross the ball fell to Van der Meyde who struck a superb volley inside the goalkeeper's left-hand upright. Arsenal's defensive deficiencies - the problem that Wenger had pinpointed before the start as the reason for their failure to travel beyond the second group stage last season - had been exposed again.
A push by Marco Materazzi as Ljungberg streaked through offered Arsenal a lifeline. However, Henry hit his penalty with too little power and Toldo saved to his left. Incredibly two then became three with Arsenal getting stretched and caught out time and time again. Four minutes before the break Emre Belözoglu jabbed a short pass through to Martins and the teenager had the strength to hold off Campbell before sliding it home.
Wenger decided against any changes at the interval. Their best chance of regaining some respectability lay with Henry and several slalom runs brought the crowd to life. Almost inevitably, though, another defender - most often Cannavaro - then intervened to halt his progress.
Whenever Arsenal advanced Inter strung an imposing wall of nine blue shirts behind the ball. Van der Meyde was caught out close to his own penalty area, but as Wiltord sensed his chance Materazzi stepped in with a saving tackle. Henry came close on a couple of occasions while somehow substitute Kanu failed to beat Toldo from close in. At the other end a Cruz free-kick needed a smart save from Lehmann.