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BBC Five Live's Ian Brown
"It took Arsenal just seven minutes to ensure this would be a relaxing night"
 real 14k

Arsene Wenger
"We were desperate to win the group"
 real 14k

banner Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK
Arsenal on cruise control
Ray Parlour
Arsenal celebrate Ray Parlour's early opener
Arsenal 4-2 Sparta Prague

Arsenal eased past Sparta Prague and into the second phase of the Champions League as Group B winners in emphatic fashion at Highbury.

Arsene Wenger's side continued an impressive European campaign by comfortably disposing of the Czechs to claim the three points they needed to seal top spot.

Ray Parlour and Lauren struck inside the first ten minutes to establish Arsenal's platform for progress into the next stage of the competition.

And despite defensive scares as Sparta showed attacking invention, it was the sort of comfortable and convincing win Wenger demanded from his men to confirm their coming of age on the European stage.

Lee Dixon added a third before half time, and Vladimir Labant's penalty was only a minor interruption to Arsenal's victory march.

Kanu added a fourth in the second half as Arsenal moved through in cruise control.

Tomas Rosicky added a spectacular second in the last seconds, but it was no consolation for a well-beaten Sparta side.

Arsenal have been transformed by switching their Champions League base from the open spaces of Wembley to Highbury's more familiar territory, and they performed impressively again in home turf.

Ray Parlour
Ray Parlour celebrates
And they made light of a reshaped team - stripped of the suspended Martin Keown and Gilles Grimandi and injured captain Tony Adams - to effectively end the contest inside seven minutes.

Sparta had valid penalty claims for handball against Dixon rejected by referee Alain Hamer in the opening two minutes, but it was brief moment of hope for the Czechs as Arsenal romped ahead.

Parlour opened the scoring in the fourth minute, picking up Patrick Vieira's pass to curl a high class finish into the top corner with the outside of his foot from 18 yards.

And as Sparta reeled from the blow, Arsenal went in for the kill and added a second through Cameroon Olympic Gold medal winner Lauren.

French international Robert Pires, whose goal gave Arsenal a priceless point against Lazio in Rome last week, turned provider for Lauren to beat Sparta goalkeeper Tomas Postulka.

Arsenal should have killed Sparta off completely after nine minutes when Jiri Novotny's back-pass was directed straight to Thierry Henry.


We were only about 80 per cent - but we won and top the group, which is the main thing
  Arsenal's Lee Dixon
Henry rounded Postulka, but the normally lethal France striker shot wastefully into the side-netting.

Sparta refused to lie down, and threatened to pierce an Arsenal rearguard based around the makeshift central defensive partnership of Oleg Luzhny and Nelson Vivas.

David Seaman was forced to turn Labant's free-kick against the bar, and the pony-tailed veteran looked uncertain as a succession of crosses posed questions for Arsenal.

Lauren almost added a second on 20 minutes when Pires was again the creator, but the talented midfield man shot narrowly wide.

Pires
Pires and Henry embrace
Arsenal banished any lingering doubts about the destiny of the points eleven minutes before half time, when they stretched their lead still further.

Postulka could only palm out Henry's free kick, and Dixon was on the spot to pick up the pieces inside the six-yard box.

Arsenal had been sloppy at the back, despite their supremacy, and it was no surprise when Sparta pulled a goal back before half time.

Seaman was the culprit, when his weakness at dealing with long range efforts surfaced again.

The England goalkeeper - at fault for Germany's winner in the recent World Cup qualifier - fumbled a routine free kick by Rosicky, then conceded a penalty by hauling down Marek Kincl as he attempted to retrieve his error.

Seaman was punished with a yellow card, and Labant rubbed salt in the wounds by steering home the spot kick - giving the 93 Sparta supporters inside Highbury something to shout about.

Clashed

Arsenal changed into a yellow strip at the start of the second half after referee Hamer complained their dark blue change outfit clashed with Sparta's claret shirts.

It made no difference to the pattern of play, as Arsenal restored their three-goal advantage five minutes into the second half.

Henry was the creator with a brilliant burst of pace, setting up Kanu to display some typical fancy footwork before scoring from close range.

Seaman made a measure of amends for his earlier error by plunging at the feet of Libor Sionko as Arsenal once again mixed attacking flair with defensive frailty.

It was the signal for Arsenal to introduce Dennis Bergkamp as replacement for the impressive Pires.

The Dutchman receiving a massive Highbury ovation just days after he revealed he was desperate to sign a new contract and finish his top class career at Arsenal.

Arsenal had chances through substitute Sylvain Wiltord, and Sparta responded with openings at the other end which brought Rosicky's goal - but it was victory at their leisure for Arsene Wenger's side.


Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Luzhny, Vivas, Silvinho, Parlour, Vieira, Lauren, Pires, Henry, Kanu. Subs: Lukic, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Wiltord, Upson, Wreh, Cole.

Sparta Prague: Postulka, Labant, Hasek, Hornak, J. Novotny, Kincl, Bolf, Sionko, Jarosik, Jun, Rosicky. Subs: Blazek, Kolousek, Siegl, P. Novotny, Prohaszka, Papousek, Mynar.

Referee: Alain Hamer (Luxembourg)

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See also:

25 Oct 00 |  Photo Galleries
Arsenal v Sparta Prague - in pictures
25 Oct 00 |  Champions League
Rangers stumble in Austria
25 Oct 00 |  Arsenal
Wenger apologises to fans
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