Five-star Arsenal qualify
By Richard Jolly. Last Updated: 07/12/04 9:29pm
Arsenal's annual panic is over. The Premiership champions specialise in making qualification to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League problematic, but solved their yearly puzzle by dismissing Rosenborg 5-1 at Highbury.
Victory was confirmed within half an hour as Jose Antonio Reyes, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas, each with elegance and ease, scored goals of a quality to justify Arsenal's billing among the favourites.
A swift exchange of goals from Erik Hoftun and Robert Pires and a pearl from Robin van Persie followed while Panathanaikos' win against PSV Eindhoven earned Arsenal first place in Group E, further extending the disparity between their straightforward progress and the fears of failure.
Nor did the positives stop there. Reyes and Fabregas rediscovered the verve that characterised their early-season excellence, Pires was purposeful and the incomparable Henry offered a reminder of why he is shortlisted for the World Footballer of the Year award.
Not that Rosenborg provided a rigorous test of his credentials. Without a win in their previous 15 away games in the Champions League, the Norwegians travel as badly as Virgin trains and there have been few more accommodating visitors to Highbury.
Certainly the selection of the midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli at right back was an act of generosity; his immediate opponent, Reyes, was duly grateful and scored within three minutes after a mesmeric dribble.
A second mismatch was Henry's duel with the painfully slow Torjus Hansen. Having admitted he feared being the scapegoat for a European exit, the sullen striker of recent weeks was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, with infectious enthusiasm, he was ubiquitous and was inches away from a 35th Champions League goal from Pires' inviting cross.
No matter. In the 24th minute, he met Mathieu Flamini's perceptive pass with a nonchalant lob over the unfortunate Espen Johnsen. Flamini brought bite to a greenhorn central midfield partnership, a rejuvenated Fabregas a delicate touch and impudent streak.
It was in evidence as he juggled the ball over a flat-footed Hoftun before half-volleying a third senior goal; a deft touch by Pires provided him with the opportunity.
Another comparative newcomer, Manuel Almunia, had appeared to vindicate Arsene Wenger's selection by tipping Harald Brattbakk's volley into the side-netting; instead, however, the abiding image of the Spaniard came when Brattbakk's corner left him clawing at thin air and Hoftun volleyed a goal to, briefly, give Rosenborg hope.
Arsenal swiftly extinguished it. Johnsen had denied the returning Dennis Bergkamp with a point-blank block but, bamboozled by the Dutchman's slide-rule pass, he upended Henry. Pires accepted his 10th goal of the season.
And Arsenal relaxed until the introduction of van Persie. The winger's one-man assault on the Rosenborg goal culminated in Arsenal's fifth. It was no less than they deserved.
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|4||1st Half Goals||1|
|9||Shots on Target||4|
|7||Shots off Target||4|
UEFA Champions League
Tue 7th Dec - Group H
PSG1 - 3CSKA Mosc
FC Porto2 - 1Chelsea
Tue 7th Dec - Group G
Valencia0 - 2W Bremen
Inter3 - 0Anderlecht
Tue 7th Dec - Group F
Celtic0 - 0AC Milan
Shak Donetsk2 - 0Barcelona
Tue 7th Dec - Group E
Arsenal5 - 1Rosenborg
Panathinaikos4 - 1PSV
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||4||4|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|1||Paris St Germain||4||10|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H