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Highbury anxiety

Published: Wednesday 17 November 2004, 20.43CET
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Published: Wednesday 17 November 2004, 20.43CET

Highbury anxiety

Arsenal FC are flirting with UEFA Champions League disaster after three straight draws.

By Trevor Haylett

Arsenal FC have had little cause to envy any of their opponents over the past two seasons but how they must wish they were in Chelsea FC's shoes at the moment.

Chelsea progress
While Chelsea - who have just usurped Arsenal's place at the head of the Premiership - have qualification to the UEFA Champions League knockout stages all wrapped up, their rivals from north London are still sweating on their chances and working out all the possible permutations with two games to go.

Arsenal floundering
Once again the team who were among the favourites to go all the way to the final in May have complicated their attempt to progress. After three successive draws in Group E, there are some at Highbury who believe that nothing less than a victory will be required when they visit PSV Eindhoven on Matchday 5.

Pegged back
In each of the last three games, away to Rosenborg BK and Panathinaikos FC and then at home against the Greek champions, Arsène Wenger's side have taken the lead before being pegged back. In Athens they were twice in front but still could not close out the tie.

Goal shy
Their lack of penetration has also been a concern with four games producing only five goals. Contrast that with their return from their opening 13 Premiership fixtures when opposing goalkeepers were forced to retrieve the ball from the net on no fewer than 37 occasions.

Defensive stance
After the home draw against Panathinaikos, Arsenal midfield player Fredrik Ljungberg said they were finding it hard to break through when opponents adopted such a cautious approach. "Teams are coming here to play very deep and with solid lines and it is difficult for us," he said.

'Something different'
The Swedish international continued: "We are encountering something different, there is not much space for us and it is hard to score the number of goals we normally do. Maybe we need to work a little on that. This game [against Panathinaikos] was a great example.

Lucky goal
"We got our penalty and pinned them back," he said. "We felt in control of the game and then they got their penalty which they missed. After that we did not feel we were in any danger but they then produced a long-range shot which hit Pascal [Cygan] on the head and goes into the net."

Disappointing run
The disappointing run continued the following weekend when they were held by lowly Crystal Palace FC. Wenger's men won the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur FC last weekend, but the 5-4 scoreline was further proof that, for all of their attacking prowess, Arsenal can lack concentration in defence.

Arsenal precedent
At least anxious Arsenal fans can console themselves that they were in a worse situation 12 months ago. Then, two defeats and a draw in their first three games left them with an awful lot to do but three successive wins saw them go through as group winners.

Repeat performance
PSV have a three-point advantage but Arsenal are confident that they can repeat their victory of Matchday 1 when an Alex own goal separated the teams. Will they be going all out for a repeat victory or will they consider a draw to be good enough?

More space
"We go for a win in all our games," said Ljungberg. "The disappointing thing has been that we have not been able to keep hold of the lead. Hopefully PSV will play on the offensive a bit more than we have seen from our opponents recently and that will help us."

Last updated: 18/11/04 11.29CET

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