Lacklustre display in Ukraine prolongs Champions League Qualification.

Once again defensive errors cost Arsenal an early route into the last 16.

Tomas Rosicky, Arsenal

It was supposed to be so easy. At least, this was the impression given prior to kick off as Arsene Wenger left key players at home whilst giving his habitually over-cuatious spiel about respecting the opposition. Fans begun to lick their lips at the prospect of a quick route into the last 16 against a team walloped 5-1 at The Emirates last month. Clearly the players who did travel hadn’t read the script, and even so, when do Arsenal ever do it the easy way?

Wenger chose to allow Song, Arshavin, Fabregas and Denilson to nurse their wounds back in London, yet one will not hesitate to suggest had this fixture been of more importance, those carrying minor knocks would have been strapped up and dragged into the lion’s den. In stepped Theo Walcott, the returning Jack Wilshere, Thomas Rosicky and Craig Eastmond, rewarded for his impressive displays in the Carling Cup and away at Bolton last season with a first Champions League start. Wenger’s confidence in an experimental line up was plain to see prior to kick off, and during the early exchanges this seemed justified, rather than disrespectful to Shakhtar’s 48 game unbeaten home record.

A bright start from Arsenal saw Jack Wilshere take centre stage immediately, and minutes after Samir Nasri hit the post with a long-range strike, the ever-improving English man fed Theo Walcott down the left with a perfectly waited lob. What ensued smacked of Thierry Henry, as the number 14 shirt blazed off into the distance, leaving the defender for dead before passing the ball into the far corner of the net. On the back of suggestions from Arsene Wenger that Walcott is ready to step into Thierry’s shoes, it seems no coincidence that he scored a goal of such an ilk.

Such a moment of brilliance often acts as a prelude for disaster amongst an Arsenal team prone to losing concentration. This was indeed the case in a fiery Donbass Arena, as Arsenal were soon at the receiving end of a quick passing move, with Donetsk working the ball into the box to allow Jadson two free attempts at goal. The first cannoned off Johan Djourou on the goaline, before the resultant rebound was dinked onto the Brazilians head, only for his unchallenged header to bounce off the post. When fans and pundits talk of Arsenal’s sloppy defending this is exactly what they mean, as the latter chance almost bypassed Gael Clichy who stood on ceremony with his arms in the air, allowing Jadson the liberty of an unchallenged header. More sloppy defending followed immediately from a corner, as a floated cross triggered a round of pin-ball in the penalty box before Dmytro Chygrinskiy smashed a shot at Lukasz Fabianski.

At this point an equaliser seemed an inevitability, and within minutes this proved to be the case. Jadson’s piercing run at the Arsenal defence drew a needless foul from Emmanuel Eboue, and a dangerous free kick from the victim flicked off Chygrynskiy’s head before a deflection off Eastmond steered the ball beyond Fabianski. Still, far worse was to come, as on the stroke of half time a long diagonal ball towards Arsenal’s left flank which should have been easily cleared by Gael Clichy induced havoc. Rather than taking the easy option of knocking the ball into touch, the French-man dillied and dallied, and Darijo Srna didn’t hesitate to seize such a glaring invitation; nicking the ball from his counterpart before squaring to an unmarked Eduardo. The ex-gunner expertly opened up his body in order to guide the ball into the far-corner of the net, a finish which acted as a cruel reminder of his clinical form during those more memorable moments of his Arsenal career.

Yet again the poison chalice of conceding a goal so close to the interval lived up to its reputation, and Arsenal failed to find a way back into the game. Theo Walcott continued to buzz around, with three ambitious attempts on goal which were all comfortably saved, yet his impact on the game rarely surpassed this. Previously Jack Wilshere had seen an attempt bend just past the post when he really should have scored, and later on in the second half Sebastian Squillaci looked to atone for a weak defensive performance with a powerful header, only for it to be easily saved by Pyatov. Carlos Vela and Marouane Chamakh, on for the ineffectual Nicklas Bendtner, both put their hat into the mix, yet an equaliser proved illusive as Shakhtar maintained their well-disciplined defensive shape. Qualification will no-doubt arrive, be it in Braga in a fortnights time, or at home to Belgrade on Matchday 6, however a missed opportunity last-night only helped to underline defensive weaknesses that must be ironed out before the latter stages of this competition.

SHAKHTAR DONETSK: Andriy Pyatov (7), Darijo Srna (8), Razvan Rat (7), Tomas Hubschmann (6), Yaroslav Rakytskyy (6), Dmytro Chygrynskiy (8), Jadson (8), Willian (7), Olexiy Gai (6), Luiz Adriano (6), Eduardo (7). SUBS: Alex Teixeira (6), Douglas Costa (6), Marcelo Moreno (N/A)

ARSENAL: Lukasz Fabianski (7), Emmanuel Eboue (5), Sebastian Squillaci (6), Johan Djourou (7), Gael Clichy (5), Craig Eastmond (6), Jack Wilshere (7), Thomas Rosicky (6), Theo Walcott (7), Samir Nasri (7), Nicklas Bendtner (5). SUBS: Carlos Vela (6), Marouane Chamakh (6), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (N/A)
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