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Shakhtar make Arsenal pay for defensive errors

Shakhtar Donetsk 2 Arsenal 1

Chygrynskiy 28, Eduardo 45; Walcott 10

Despite taking an early lead courtesy of Theo Walcott‘s tenth-minute strike, Arsenal maintained their record of never having won in the Ukraine after errors by full backs Emmanuel Eboué and Gaël Clichy led to Shakhtar Donetsk goals as the Ukrainian side drew level on points at the top of group H. However, Arsenal maintain leadership of the group thanks to their 5-1 win in the home fixture two weeks ago.

Arsenal travelled to Donetsk without captain Cesc Fàbregas, Alex Song, Andrey Arshavin, Denilson and Abou Diaby, with Marouane Chamakh, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna dropping to the bench. In all, Arsène Wenger made seven changes from the team which beat West Ham on Saturday, with Tomáš Rosický captaining an XI which lined up as follows:

Fabiański

Eboué – Squillaci – Djourou – Clichy

Eastmond – Wilshere – Rosický

Walcott – Bendtner – Nasri

Shakhtar are an entirely different proposition at home at the Donbass Arena, coming into this match unbeaten in any of their 27 home matches since the stadium was opened in August 2009. They certainly started brightly, forcing Lukasz Fabiański in to a save as early as the first minute.

Walcott scored his seventh goal of the season with a clinical strike (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

But Arsenal also showed plenty of enterprise in the early minutes. Nicklas Bendtner was hauled down at a corner and could have claimed a penalty with some justification, and Samir Nasri was allowed to dribble 30 yards before striking the outside of the post from the edge of the box, before the visitors took the lead with the simplest of goals. From a quick counter-attack, Jack Wilshere sent Theo Walcott clear beyond Shakhtar’s high defensive line, and the England man raced forwards before steering a precise shot from 25 yards across Andriy Pyatov, who was caught in no-man’s land, and just inside the far post.

Going behind, however, merely stung the Ukrainians into redoubling their efforts. Rodrigues Jádson drilled a header against a post before Dmytro Chygrynskiy brought a sharp reflex save from Fabiański. It was one-way traffic, and Shakhtar’s persistence soon paid dividends. Emmanuel Eboué, caught flat-footed by Willian, hacked down the Brazilian and conceded a free kick. Jádson swung the ball in, and Chygrynskiy’s header took a sizeable deflection off Craig Eastmond‘s head to steer it past Fabiański.

Arsenal gradually steadied the ship, but both teams continued to craft chances. Jádson hit a tame effort straight at Fabiański. Walcott was denied by a last-ditch tackle by Darijo Srna after good work by Eastmond and Bendtner.

Poor defending by Clichy gifted Shakhtar their second goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

The visitors would have happily settled for going in at 1-1 as the half crept into its closing seconds. But then Gaël Clichy – not for the first time this season – was too casual in attempting to deal with a diagonal ball intended for Srna, and compounded his error by allowing the Croatian to wriggle inside him to the by-line. Srna cut the ball back, and former Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva made no mistake from eight yards. As he had done when scoring at the Emirates, Eduardo chose not to celebrate his goal.

From 1-0 up, Arsenal went in behind at half-time in a game largely dominated by their opponents, who had ruthlessly taken advantage of errors by the English side’s full backs.

Arsenal started the second half brightly and dominated possession early on. Clichy pushed forward attempting to atone for his error, but failed to clear the first defender with two early crosses. Wilshere curled a left-footed effort wide, while Walcott shot weakly straight at Pyatov.

Eastmond gave way to Carlos Vela as Wenger decided to sacrifice a body in midfield for additional attacking threat. Increasingly, Wilshere and Nasri began to pull the strings in midfield. Sébastien Squillaci should have done better with a free header from eight yards which he failed to steer past Pyatov, while Walcott did well to work himself three openings on the edge of the area in quick succession, only for the keeper to safely clutch his efforts each time.

Wenger sent on Chamakh for Bendtner, and then Jay Emmanuel-Thomas for Walcott, as Arsenal continued to press for the equaliser. Despite a couple of threatening moments, Fabiański had little to do, a virtual spectator other than a Srna free kick which he dealt with comfortably. But as Shakhtar increasingly retreated in defence of their advantage Arsenal, for all their possession, struggled to get beyond their back line. Vela, on the turn, shot straight at Pyatov, while Emmanuel-Thomas fired harmlessly wide from the edge of the area.

In added-on time, substitute Marcelo Moreno nearly padded Shakhtar’s advantage but Fabiański was alert to the danger and palmed the ball away. But no matter. The damage had been done, and Shakhtar had the victory which, with Braga winning in Belgrade, keeps group H open for at least one more round. The Londoners now need to win both their remaining games to guarantee they finish top of the group, although a single point at Braga in three weeks’ time will guarantee qualification.

Arsenal certainly missed the experience and physical presence of Song and Denilson in Donetsk, struggling to asset any degree of control in midfield until late on, when Shakhtar were more willing to concede ground. And aside from the pace and movement of Walcott – who had five shots, all on target – the home side dealt fairly comfortably with Arsenal’s other forwards. But, despite Shakhtar’s dominance and heavy pressure through the middle part of the first half, Wenger will reflect on missed second half opportunities and basic errors by his two experienced full backs which cost them at least a share of the points.

Wenger bemoaned his team’s loss of focus after scoring the early goal:

We had a good start but after that we became too easy. We were punished against a good team. It’s a good lesson for us. We were shown you can not get through without a 100% defensive concentration. We came back in the second half, but they were intelligent as well. We had the chances in the second half but we couldn’t take them. If you’re not focused for 90 minutes then you will suffer.

It [failing to secure qualification tonight was] a missed opportunity, of course. We should have made the most of it after we scored the first goal like we did. I believe it’s a lack of maturity. We dropped a bit of our urgency and we were punished because they are good players.

Arsenal return to action on Sunday lunchtime with a match against Newcastle – who they defeated 4-0 in the Carling Cup last week – at the Emirates Stadium. Wenger will no doubt drill into his team the need to focus 100% on getting a result in that game after their stumble in Donetsk.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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