The last time Steve McClaren brought a team to north London to face Arsenal he was on the wrong end of a seven-goal thrashing so on this occasion the new manager of FC Twente could at least give thanks for small mercies.
For once in his recent career the embattled, lampooned anti-hero of English football found himself in a game in which he had nothing to lose. But lose he did nonetheless.
With his team trailing by two goals from the first leg, McClaren's dream of a Champions League shock to re-launch himself in football management was always going to be a long shot and it looked longer and longer as the night wore on. Arsène Wenger's team are in the draw for the Champions League group stages tonight and with Cesc Fabregas back from injury they look like a much more serious proposition than the side who lost to Fulham on Saturday.
For McClaren, the slow process of rehabilitation begins this weekend with his first Dutch league game away to Roda, a club at which Twente have never had much joy according to those who know Dutch football. These two games against Arsenal began as an exercise in avoiding humiliation for the former England manager and then, after a goalless first half in the first leg, he might have dared to hope. Come the end of the game last night he was back to praying that the scoreline would not get too embarrassing.
Samir Nasri's goal in the 19th minute ended any faint hope that McClaren might have harboured of making the tie interesting but, apart from a few ribald comments from the crowd about the whereabouts of the FC Twente manager's brolly, he escaped largely unscathed. "In the first leg we played with a lot of belief but we didn't play with that belief this time," McClaren said. "We didn't play and pass the ball as we can."
To be fair to McClaren he is dreadfully short of strikers, his best player Blaise N'Kufo was suspended and Marko Arnautovic was injured and he admitted he will have to get some new players in by the close of the transfer window on Monday. Not an easy proposition when your top earner is on little more than £400,000 and Luke Wilkshire has recently departed, judging Spartak Moscow a better bet.
At least McLaren avoided being buried by the kind of goal avalanche that last engulfed him on an away trip to Arsenal. On 14 January 2006, his Middlesbrough team came to Highbury having beaten Arsenal four months earlier at the Riverside and lost 7-0. Against a team that was virtually full-strength apart from the selection of Emmanuel Adebayor on the substitutes bench, McClaren might have feared the worst.
Fabregas was back in the Arsenal midfield for the first time this season and the difference was obvious from the start. "I believe he brings calm and confidence to the side," Wenger said. "Overall we had a good balance and the response was clear."
It is unlikely that another team will come to the Emirates this season and dare to play 4-3-3 against the masters of the counter-attack but then none will come with so little expectation as Twente. The excellent Nasri scored Arsenal's first, a beautifully-taken goal from a player whose stature grows with every game. On 19 minutes he picked the ball up just inside the area and, with one drop of the shoulder, sent Edson Braafheid and Cheick Tiote in the wrong direction. His shot took a deflection before beating goalkeeper Nicolay Mihaylov, on loan at Twente from Liverpool.
With Twente nervous on the ball, Arsenal could have had a few more if Nasri's team-mates had shown his directness in front of goal. With seven minutes left in the first half, Theo Walcott robbed the ball from Jeroen Heubach and could have gone in on goal himself. Such is the Englishman's eagerness to please, however, that he cut the ball back to Robin Van Persie. With the goal at his mercy, the Dutchman struck his shot wide.
Arsenal were two goals ahead within eight minutes of the interval when William Gallas rampaged through the middle. The ball was spread back out to Nicklas Bendtner whose shot was saved by Mihaylov – the rebound dropped back at the feet of Gallas who finished easily.
The third goal came on 67 minutes when Bendtner, more through accident than design, exchanged passes with Walcott who went through on goal and beat Mihaylov. It was a good night for the young Englishman but he will know that he has to do this against better opposition. Bendtner scored the fourth by twisting and turning in the Arsenal area, exchanging passes with Denilson, and beating Mihaylov from close range. The only sign of dissent were the boos for Adebayor when he eventually came on.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy; Walcott, Fabregas (Song, 68), Denilson, Nasri (Eboué, ht); Bendtner, Van Persie (Adebayor, 65). Substitutes not used: Touré, Vela, Ramsey, Fabianksi (gk).
FC Twente (4-3-3): Mihaylov; Braafheid (Rajkovic, 86), Wielaert, Douglas, Heubach (Wellenberg, ht); Brama, Tiote, Janssen; Denneboom, Huysegems, Elia. Substitutes not used: Zomer, Paauwe (gk), Gerritsen, Chery, Reimerink.
Referee: T Hauge (Norway).