Arsenal were moments away from capturing all three points from its Champions League group match at AZ Alkmaar on Tuesday, only for the hosts to claim a last-second equalizer with a stoppage-time goal from David Mendes da Silva.
The single point earned from the 1-1 draw maintains the Gunners’ place atop Group H, with seven points from its first three games. But Olympiacos’ win over Standard Liege yesterday in the other group match — thanks to its own stoppage-time goal — has the Greek side just one point behind Arsenal, halfway through the competition’s opening stage.
So, what could have been a comfortable five-point margin for Arsenal in the group, with one foot firmly in the knockout rounds, has been reduced to a single point. This leaves some additional work for Arsene Wenger’s side before qualifying out of the group stage, but the Gunners do have two of the remaining three Champions League matches at home to help secure its spot in the next round.
While not dominating this latest midweek European encounter, Arsenal did seem in charge for most of the match in Alkmaar. The visitors had more of the chances in a quiet opening period, with Robin van Persie denied on two clear attempts on goal.
Arsenal did break through with a goal ten minutes before halftime. Andrey Arshavin collected a misplaced Alkmaar pass and fed the ball down the left channel to van Persie, who unselfishly centered for Cesc Fabregas to direct into the net.
Alkmaar looked a bit more dangerous in the second half, going close a number of times. And with the Gunners not playing up to the standards of its seven-match win streak, the outcome remained in the balance.
Arsenal substitute Carlos Vela looked to have given his team a penalty chance six minutes from time when he was taken down by Moussa Dembele. But referee Martin Hansson waved play on, giving Alkmaar hope for a last gasp opportunity on Vito Mannone’s goal.
And that chance came deep into injury time, from a free kick inside Alkmaar’s own half. Graziano Pelle nodded down the long kick for Mendes da Silva to volley home, leading to jubilant cheers from the home crowd as their team snatched a point at the death.
While Arsenal might seem content with a road draw in this competition, the result seemed more like a loss to defender Thomas Vermaelen. “We were in control, there were no big chances for AZ but in the last minute they scored. It feels like a defeat,” said Vermaelen in an interview on ITV.
“You know that in the last five minutes of a Champions League match, anything can happen,” said manager Wenger during his post-match interview (seen online at http://www.arsenal.com). “They have thrown everything forward and felt they could only score on a set piece, and that is what happened.
“It is frustrating because we looked closer to scoring a second than conceding, but credit to them, they did fight well and went until the last minute,” continued the Frenchman. “We are still in a strong position. We have three games left, two at home, and I believe to win one game will qualify us.
“What I want is for us to continue to play like we do, focus to play better,” added Wenger. “In football, you have to produce the maximum result with your game, and tonight that did not happen.”