AZ Alkmaar 1-1 Arsenal: Gunners Rocked By AZ Late-Show
Arsenal were without several big names for their first ever competitive clash against Dutch side AZ Alkmaarthis evening, Theo Walcott and Thomas Rosicky adding to manager Arsene Wenger’s already sizeable list of enforced absentees.
Gael Clichy did make a return from injury at left-back, but the returning Manuel Almunia had to make do with a place on the bench as Vito Mannone retained his place in the Arsenal goal.
Arsenal scored the first ever goal at AZ’s DSB Stadium in a 2006 friendly, but despite currently lying bottom of Group H with just a point to their name, the Dutch side have been defeated just once in 34 home competitive European games.
They looked to be heading for their second until three minutes into injury time when Mendes da Silva drew things level for AZ, in a game in which Arsenal rarely looked anything other than comfortable after a Cesc Fabregas tap-in gave them the lead thirty-six minutes in.
Arsenal’s own Dutchman Robin van Persie should have scored early on after he was given far too much time in the box having been set up by Abou Diaby, but AZ goalkeeper Sergio Romero was there to make the crucial save.
Other than van Persie’s tenth minute chance both sides struggled to stamp their authority on the game, with Arsenal far from their free flowing best and AZ seeing plenty of possession but precious little end product. Mounir El Hamdaoui was the man to finally try an effort on goal for the home side, but the striker fizzed his shot just over Manonne’s crossbar.
Arsene Wenger’s men began to find their feet shortly after as Andrey Arshavin saw his cute chip nestle on top of the AZ net on 28 minutes, and eight minutes later Cesc Fabregas broke the deadlock for the visitors after good work by Arshavin and Van Persie left the Spaniard with the easiest of tap-ins, the AZ defence all at sea.
Arsenal continued to turn the screw after the opening goal, and only AZ goalkeeper Romero prevented the home side from going in at the break more than one down, keeping out an edge of the area effort from Fabregas and a vicious swerving shot from van Persie as the clock ticked down to half-time.
In an otherwise unremarkable first-half, Arsenal’s superiority in the final third proved the difference as both sides passed the ball well in the middle of the field in a professional, if not spectacular 45 minutes of football.
The second-half kicked off in similarly low-key fashion, a van Persie yellow card for taking out AZ’s Australian international Brett Holman in a badly-timed challenge a rare moment of bite in the first ten minutes of the half.
A van Persie free-kick brought AZ stopper Romero into action on 56 minutes, as his powerful shot whistled past the wall and on target, but the visitors seemed happy to keep the game at a relaxed tempo as AZ struggled to find a way through.
Arsenal had their first real moment of concern on 72 minutes, and it came via one of their own players. The ball appeared to cannon towards goal off of Arsenal’s Abou Diaby’s shoulder from an AZ corner, but thankfully for the Gunners grazed the top of the bar and went over.
Wenger gave striker Carlos Vela a run-out on 75 minutes in place of van Persie, but before the diminutive Mexican could make any impression on the game, AZ again worried the Arsenal defence, this time Vela’s countryman Hector Moreno narrowly failing to direct the ball on goal from inside the six-yard box after a well-worked free-kick
Vela had a strong shout for a penalty, and a chance to give the North London side some much-needed breathing space turned down minutes later, and Arshavin gave Romero more work to do late on, driving a low shot on target as Arsenal looked to see out the game on the attack.
They were made to pay the price for the missed opportunities with seconds left to play however, as AZ’s Mendes da Silva fired home from inside the area after a long free kick to snatch back a game that looked all but Arsenal’s.