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Arsenal look set to advance in Champions League
Mike Collett | November 01, 2005 15:34 IST
Arsenal will qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday if they maintain their perfect start to their Group B campaign and chalk up their fourth successive victory against Sparta Prague.
By their own high standards, Arsenal have made a sluggish start to their domestic season and are languishing in seventh place in the Premier League, 14 points behind leaders Chelsea.
They have been unbeatable in Europe however with wins over Thun (2-1), Ajax Amsterdam (2-1) and Sparta (2-0) in their opening three matches and top the group on nine points, three ahead of Ajax.
The Gunners could even afford to draw with Sparta and still advance to the knockout rounds if Ajax beat Thun, who have three points, in Switzerland.
Sparta though, would have to considerably raise their game to leave Highbury with even a point after losing their last five away matches in Europe.
They have taken just one Champions League point from a 1-1 draw with Ajax, losing their other two matches to Thun (0-1) and Arsenal, who beat them 2-0 in Prague two weeks ago.
Thierry Henry came off the bench to score both Arsenal's goals in that match to set a new Arsenal club scoring record of 186 goals.
Although the Frenchman missed Saturday's 1-1 north London derby draw against Tottenham Hotspur because of a groin injury, he could return on Wednesday to heap further woe on the visitors.
The reigning Czech champions arrive in a tailspin that has left them on the fringes of the early relegation battle in the domestic league with only four wins from their opening 11 matches.
They are also reeling from a 2-1 home defeat to Sigma Olomouc on Saturday, made worse when Slovak midfielder Karol Kisel -- only just back from injury -- broke his collarbone.
Nothing much else went right for Sparta either. Skipper Martin Petras had a goal disallowed, and the goal they did score was from a Miroslav Matusovic penalty just six minutes from time when they were already 2-0 down.
"At this point, when we play Arsenal we really have nothing to lose," said Petras, who took over from veteran Karel Poborsky after the former Manchester United player left the club after a row with coach Jaroslav Hrebik, who was eventually replaced as well.
Stanislav Griga, the current coach, took some hope from Sparta's second half performance on Saturday describing it as "a one-sided half", but he knows his team will have to make a vast improvement to avoid defeat and almost certain elimination from the competition on Wednesday.
Arsenal: 1-Jens Lehmann; Lauren, 23-Sol Campbell, 28-Kolo Toure, 22-Gael Clichy; 8-Fredrik Ljungberg, 7-Robert Pires, 19-Gilberto Silva, 10-Dennis Bergkamp; 14-Thierry Henry, 9-Jose Antonio Reyes
Sparta Prague: 29-Jaromir Blazek; 4-Pavel Pergl, 19-Martin Petras, 15-Petr Lukas, 23-Michal Kadlec; 20-Zdenek Pospech, 7-Lukas Zelenka, 2-Martin Hasek, 21-Tomas Polacek; 9-Libor Dosek, 28-Miroslav Matusovic.
Referee: Alain Sars (France)
UEFA Champions League 2005-06: The Complete Coverage