New Campaign but Same Old Problems; Arsenal Flatter to Deceive despite Stirring Comeback after Sloppy Start as Their Defensive Frailties Are Exposed Again. James Olley Reports from Liege

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Byline: James Olley


LTHOUGH the personnel may have changed, Arsenal's chances of Champions League glory still appear driven by a beautiful but often overcomplicated attacking strategy undermined by the defensive frailty that has ultimately cost them at home and abroad in recent times.

What the Stade Maurice Dufrasne witnessed last night was essentially a microcosm of the best and the worst the Gunners presently have to offer under Arsene Wenger.

Individual errors accounted for all six goals conceded in Manchester -- two at United and four at City -- and you can chalk up two more at Standard Liege as the lack of composure and inexperience often levelled at Wenger's team reared itself once again.

Yet there was a stirring comeback displaying genuine team spirit as the Belgian champions retreated so far they were standing as a team, dead on their feet, virtually on their goalkeeper's toes, beaten into submission in a haze of probing possession.

True, at times they lacked the incision provided by the absent Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin and Theo Walcott to name but three, while the home side's limitations were only exposed as they tired badly in the second half.

But Arsenal are often criticised for producing displays that are the antithesis of champions -- playing well yet losing -- yet last night they did what was required despite playing worse than in those matches against the two Manchester teams and bereft of several first-choice starters.

Standard gave them a mighty fright in front of vocal support, who are unaccustomed to seeing their side fail at home, having not lost in 15 matches dating back to December. Rookie keeper Vito Mannone, who endured a torrid night and only contributed to the unease clearly felt in the Arsenal defence early on, had failed to shout to Alex Song as the Cameroon international hacked the ball out for a needless corner.

As the ball was half-cleared, Eduardo tried a backheel only to find Standard's Eliaquim Mangala, who fired the ball past Mannone to give the home side a second-minute lead.

In his day job as a dentist, referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez is used to inflicting pain on those under his control and Arsenal's significantly worsened just three minutes later, when the Spaniard awarded the home side a penalty.

William Gallas felled Milan Jovanovic and the Serbian forward, the top scorer in Belgian football, sent 21-year-old Mannone the wrong way to double their lead. At one point last night, Mannone was instructed to re-take a goal kick and when your goalkeeper cannot even restart play without getting it wrong, you know you are in trouble.

But Nicklas Bendtner fired Arsenal back into the game on the stroke of half-time and from then on it appeared increasingly likely they would come through. …


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