LIEGE, September 17- Arsenal striker Eduardo celebrated his Champions League reprieve with the late goal that gave the Gunners a dramatic 3-2 victory over Standard Liege on Wednesday.
Arsene Wenger’s side looked set for a miserable start to their Group H campaign when Belgian champions Liege opened up a two-goal lead in the first five minutes at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne thanks to Eliaquim Mangala’s strike and a Milan Jovanovic penalty.
But Nicklas Bendtner pulled one back before half-time and Thomas Vermaelen equalised before Eduardo poached the winner nine minutes from full-time.
Eduardo’s decisive intervention capped a remarkable 24 hours for the Brazil-born Croatian, who had learned on Monday that he was free to play after UEFA overturned his two-match suspension for allegedly deceiving the referee to win a penalty against Celtic in the qualifying round.
After an impressive opening to the season, back to back defeats against Manchester United and then Manchester City on Saturday had doused optimism at the north London club.
But Wenger can take heart from the way his side showed tremendous spirit to dig out a much-needed victory.
"Eduardo is a great player and you know he can always turn up with something," Wenger said.
"They caught us cold at the start. They were fighting for every single one-on-one and it was a very difficult game. But what happened in the first few minutes can happen to any team in the world.
"We had to work very hard to win the game after that against a very motivated team and we did that. We put every effort in to make sure we could comeback. Scoring before half-time helped a lot and then we got two set piece goals."
With first choice keeper Manuel Almunia sidelined by a virus and Lukasz Fabianski recovering from knee surgery, Wenger was forced to give a first Champions League start to Vito Mannone – a 21-year-old Italian with only one previous appearance for the Gunners.
Liege were making their debut in the Champions League group stages but Arsenal seemed to underestimate the threat they posed in the early stages.
They were sloppy right from the off and fell behind in the second minute when Eduardo gave the ball away with a careless backheel on the edge of his own penalty area.
Mangala seized on the mistake, held off Cesc Fabregas and scuffed his low shot past Mannone at his near post.
Arsenal’s last visit to Liege in 1993 had ended with a 7-0 victory in the Cup Winners’ Cup, but it was the hosts who were running riot this time.
Mannone had to pick the ball out of the net again three minutes later as his defence capitulated once more. William Gallas couldn’t cope with a powerful run from Jovanovic and tripped the Serbian striker to hand Liege a penalty.
Jovanovic picked himself up and calmly sent Mannone the wrong way with the spot kick to spark wild celebrations among the 27,000 capacity crowd.
But Liege were content to sit back and defend their lead for long periods after that stunning start, giving Arsenal a chance to regroup.
The visitors began to find some rhythm and reduced the deficit on the stroke of half-time when Abou Diaby slid a pass through to Bendtner, who arrowed a low shot under Sinan Bolat from a tight angle.
There was no repeat of Liege’s blistering first half opening after the interval and only a fine tackle from Mangala denied Bendtner as Arsenal monopolized possession.
Inspired by Fabregas’s promptings, Arsenal gradually began to resemble the side that reached the Champions League semi-finals last season.
Liege couldn’t hold out and Arsenal levelled in controversial circumstances in the 78th minute.
Fabregas curled over a free-kick that Song, standing in what looked an offside position, appeared to block with his arm but, as the Liege players protested, the ball ran to Vermaelen and the Belgian defender poked home from point-blank range.
Arsenal were in buoyant mood and Eduardo completed a remarkable comeback in the 81st minute with a close-range finish.