Arsenal are ambushed
Little more than 24 hours after touching down in Brazil, Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United players are finding life a beach. With the champions away, Arsenal had the opportunity to plunder all they can only to be found wanting at the first obstacle.
Eight years have past since Arsenal's last victory at Hillsborough but, with Sheffield Wednesday marooned, there can never have been a better chance to take advantage of United's absence.
"Bearing in mind Wednesday are bottom you can say we have dropped two points because one is not enough for us," admitted a rueful Arsene Wenger.
The routine victory that had been expected of Arsenal seemed well on course when Emmanuel Petit put them ahead three minutes before the interval with a goal stunning in its creation and clinical in its execution. Thierry Henry's intelligent flick dissected the home defence and his compatriot was allowed to run unchallenged into the penalty area before enticing Pavel Srnicek from his goal line and expertly clipping the ball beyond him with the outside of his left boot.
However, it was one of the few occasions when Arsenal exposed the gulf in ability against a side who have officially clocked up the worst start in Premiership history.
Perhaps in Arsenal's case, more than most, this really is the dawning of a new era. Only David Seaman and Tony Adams merited a starting place from their famous back five until Mark Overmars was forced out after only 29 minutes, allowing Nigel Winterburn to restore a more customary look to the side.
Overmars had gone down in obvious distress following an innocuous challenge by Wim Jonk. A key component missing, Arsenal lacked their usual cohesion but remained largely untroubled until 11 minutes after the interval when Wednesday had the audacity to equalise. Ian Nolan's right-wing delivery hung in the air for an age and when it came down Gerald Sibon was at the far post to direct a firm header into the opposite corner.
All of which begs the question as to why he has been so sparingly used since his Stg£2m arrival from Ajax last summer. "You won't see a better header than that all season," said Wednesday's manager Danny Wilson. "It's been a frustrating time for Gerald because he's not had many games but there are parts of his game that need working on."
Had Niclas Alexandersson's left-foot volley been a few inches to the left rather than striking the base of Seaman's left hand post, the most improbable of comebacks would have been complete. Arsenal also had their chances during a grandstand finish, most notably when Frederik Ljungberg's header was clawed away by Srnicek, but it was the hosts who finished with the greater verve and purpose.
Nevertheless, they are surely doomed and a substantial contingent of the home fans held a minute's silence before kick-off to mark the demise of Wednesday's top-flight status. By the end, however, many questions hung over Arsenal.
Sheffield Wednesday: Srnicek, Nolan, Atherton, Walker, Hinchcliffe, Alexandersson, Jonk, Sonner, Briscoe (McKeever 46), Sibon (Cresswell 78), De Bilde. Subs Not Used: Pressman, Staniforth, Nicolson. Booked: Nolan. Goal: Sibon 56.
Arsenal: Seaman, Luzhny, Adams, Grimandi, Silvinho, Ljungberg, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Winterburn 25), Kanu (Suker 71), Henry. Subs Not Used: Manninger, Dixon, Keown. Booked: Luzhny. Goal: Petit 40.
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).