Van the man to see off Sparta
By Rob Lancaster. Last Updated: 02/11/05 9:35pm
Arsenal booked their place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League with a 3-0 win over Sparta Prague at Highbury.
The returning Thierry Henry grabbed the first before substitute Robin van Persie's late double wrapped up the victory as The Gunners cruised through to the last 16 with two group games still to be played.
Sparta certainly seem to bring out the best in Henry as he set his side on their way with another great goal to add to his collection.
After scoring twice against the Czech side two weeks ago on his return to injury, the Frenchman perfectly curled the ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards out to bring the crowd to life on a miserable night in North London.
However, the captain was outdone by his replacement as van Persie sealed Arsenal's place in the knockout stages with a brace that will further his reputation as Arsenal's 'super-sub'.
The Dutchman, who impressed as a replacement against Tottenham at the weekend, had already gone close with a free kick before he grabbed two goals in the space of four minutes to kill the game off.
The forward curled in his first from the edge of the area as Sparta were caught out on the break and then followed that up by tucking home Emmanuel Eboue's pass.
Van Persie's fine performance from the bench gave the final scoreline a flattering look after Arsenal had failed to build on Henry's strike against a Sparta team rarely interested in getting out of their own half.
Dennis Bergkamp had come close to opening Arsenal's account when he smacked a shot against the crossbar from close range, while Jose Antonio Reyes' attempt to follow Henry's lead with a curling effort that had to be turned away by Blazek.
With only one up front the visitors were forced to try and beat Manuel Almunia from distance, although the majority of their shots were only dangerous to the crowd behind the custodian's goal.
Martin Hasek did manage to make the Spaniard work with one long-range drive through a crowded penalty area that the keeper palmed away to safety.
But, with Arsenal unable to find their rhythm after the interval, Sparta began to grow in confidence as they finally managed to put some pressure on a defensive unit that looked far-from convincing at times.
Adam Petrous had their best chance to equalise but he was unable to get his header on target with Almunia, continuing in the starting line-up in place of the injured Jens Lehmann, left in no-man's land.
The keeper was also indebted to the woodwork for his clean sheet when Martin Petras' header rattled against the crossbar shortly after van Persie had already doubled Arsenal's lead with a sublime curler with his left foot.
The former Feyenoord front-man then added a third before full-time when he combined well with fellow sub Eboue to beat poor Blazek, who had little chance to stop any of the goals.
Arsenal v Sparta Prague player ratings
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Sparta Prague|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|9||Shots on Target||1|
|7||Shots off Target||9|
UEFA Champions League
Wed 2nd Nov - Group D
Benfica0 - 1Villarreal
Lille1 - 0Man Utd
Wed 2nd Nov - Group A
Club Brugge3 - 2Rapid Vienna
Juventus2 - 1Bay Munich
Wed 2nd Nov - Group C
W Bremen4 - 3Udinese
Barcelona5 - 0Panathinaikos
Wed 2nd Nov - Group B
Arsenal3 - 0Sp Prague
FC Thun2 - 4Ajax
UEFA Champions League Group A
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UEFA Champions League Group C
|1||Zenit St. Petersburg||1||3|
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|2||Paris St Germain||1||1|
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