Maybe it’s because every foreign team that comes to Highbury is better than us at sussing the ref and winning free kicks. It’s obvious to me that you sometimes play the refs as much as the opposition. Tonight we had Luis Medina Cantealejo; a Spaniard with a David Platt haircut and what I would have thought was a new whistle. His idea of a free kick was weird by our standards, but no doubt he does the same every week. For example a forward blatantly backs into a defender and wins a free kick, so the Greeks having done it once did it again and again. Even when they were clearly out jumped and an Arsenal man won a clean header it was a free kick to them. So do we pick up on this? Do we back in and win free kicks ourselves, of course not? Players were forever falling down with minimal or zero contact rolling around and winning free kicks, so why didn’t we? Why did no one check out the ref and play according to his rules? I have no idea, but because we didn’t we let ourselves in for even more unnecessary frustration.
The game was like all our other European matches, lots of decent play, no cutting edge and little end product. Dennis pulled a shot wide from a Ljungberg cutback early on. There was a good shot from range from Basinas, Lehmann had it covered and it went wide, probably their best effort of the night. Their other shots were mostly hit and hope from range and lacking punch. Nearly all their moves, such as they were, went via Basinas and we gave him acres of space to encourage this. We looked neat, we looked tidy and we even had the occasional cross that was met with solid defending.
Arsenal won a free kick wide right which Dennis took, there was a shove on Pat in the area and we got ourselves a penalty. Henry stepped up, gave it a bit of a soft-shoe shuffle and slotted home neatly after watching the keeper go the wrong way. He gave it the full gunslinger style glare treatment by way of celebration. 1-0 to the Arsenal. The rest of the half was a long series of free kicks, many of them played for and the majority of them unwarranted. Freddie went down in their box and it looked as worthy a call for a penalty as our first, but it was Freddie and I was a long way away.
One of the numerous free kicks resulted in a free header that was nodded wide of Lehmann’s goal. We had some good moves but few that came close to creating a clear-cut chance and Panathinaikos had a spell of possession themselves before the break but they too offered little in the way of decisive moves. Freddie won a free kick for what looked like a slow motion action replay of a tumble. Cole had a free kick, which he fired over and we seemed pretty much in control. This despite shed loads of short passes from the Greeks and quite few tumbles from short Greeks.
In the second half, other than the change of ends, little changed. We stayed on top and had some decent chances, such as when Henry got away seriously fast down our left but hit a poor cross with Bergkamp on hand at the far post. We won a few corners, but as ever they didn’t come to much, except for the time when a short one involving Cesc worked Henry in with a chance. A brilliant run by Pires resulted in Henry being put away and finding the back of the net, unfortunately this was after the offside flag had been correctly raised. Henry picked up a yellow card for doing nothing much other than watch Basinas roll around on the floor because he lost the ball. Still I expect that’s the biggest name any prat can write in their book these days.
Skacel immediately took out Kolo which was far worse than anything Henry didn’t do but there was no card for that. Papadopoulos went down in our box under a challenge from Cole so the ref evened out the penalty count. An injury delayed proceedings and when it was finally taken Basinas fired the spot kick over. A slice of luck and good to see that Lehmann didn’t try a rain dance on the line for this penalty.
It has to be said that no Arsenal player played badly, everyone contributed, but we just didn’t fire on all cylinders. Quite why I have no idea, there seem to be loads of theories as to why this happens in Europe but I’m not sure I believe any of them. I’d just like to see us go hell for leather one game and up the speed of the game. We can do measured football, but not seemingly killer measured football. Freddie was about to break but Konstantinidis thought it worth a booking to stop him, he was probably right.
Reyes replaced Dennis. Soon after Reyes arrived Vintris had a shot that appeared to be bending from right to left just beyond our far post and Lehmann dived across to cover it. Unfortunately it was at head height and Cygan connected with the perfect glancing header to beat Lehmann. A totally lucky goal, but 1-1 for all that. No doubt there will be those who will want to blame Cygan but he had a fine game and it was just one of those things.
So kitchen sink time in front of the North Bank and Reyes came closest with two chances in quick succession, the second of which came back off the bar. As we piled forward the game was open for some counter attacking play and there were times that it was end to end. But usually we were battering on the door, which remained firmly closed. Van Persie replaced Freddie but he couldn’t repeat his late goal trick. What followed was the usual European frustration both on and off the pitch. We huffed and we puffed but we didn’t put it away and with just seven goal attempts all match we probably were never going to.