Victorious Arsenal don’t miss Vieira at all

Arsenal moved halfway toward their first appearance in the Champions League semifinals with a 2-0 victory over Italian league leaders Juventus on Tuesday and showed Patrick Vieira they don’t miss him at all.

Goals by Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry gave the Gunners a quarterfinals first-leg lead that they defend next week in Turin.

Arsene Wenger’s team of youngsters gave the Old Lady of Italian soccer the runaround at Highbury and could have won by more.

”The only regret is that I feel there was one more goal in this game for us,” said Wenger, whose team was denied twice by top-quality second-half saves by Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

”It was a great night for Arsenal because we wanted to play well defensively and score goals, and we managed to do both.

”I am very happy with the performance of the team — the fluency, the speed and the technical aspects. It shows that the team is getting better and better,” said Wenger, who saw Fabregas outwit Vieira in midfield as his team’s slick passing repeatedly carved through the Juventus midfield and defence.

”There is still a difficult job to do in Turin,” Wenger said. ”We are only halfway there and we want to finish the job next week; Juventus is at home and they will try and come at us, but we will want to play well and score goals.”

Juventus finished the game with nine men after the late ejections of Mauro Camoranesi and Jonathan Zebina, each for second yellow cards.

”We have to be confident that we can do better in the second leg and we must do a big game in Turin,” said Juventus coach Fabio Capello, who won the trophy with AC Milan. ”You never know what will happen, especially in football. We had some chances but, when we lost players at the end, there was no way we could come back.”

Former Arsenal captain Vieira was among four Juventus players shown a yellow card as the visitor was unable to recreate the form that has given them an eight-point lead in Serie A. Camoranesi, Zebina and Vieira will sit out next week’s second leg because of suspension.

Vieira, who helped Arsenal win three Premier League and four FA Cup titles before transferring to Juventus in July, was given a warm welcome by Arsenal fans, who chanted his name before kick-off despite his appearance in the black-and-white stripes of Juventus.

”Patrick Vieira is a good player but he suffered tonight because we are a good team,” Wenger said. ”We didn’t give him a chance to celebrate [his return to Highbury] tonight.”

The home side went ahead when Robert Pires won the ball from Vieira inside the Arsenal half and left his former teammate lying on the Highbury turf.

He found Henry with a pass and the striker fed the ball just inside the area to Fabregas, who jinked right and shot between Lilian Thuram’s legs with a low, right-foot effort that went in from 16m.

Kolo Toure rescued Arsenal when Juventus threatened early in the second half, taking the ball off the foot of Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the lanky Sweden striker was about to shoot.

Buffon then made his contributions — thwarting shots from Henry and Fabregas after Jose Antonio Reyes twice had opened up the visitors’ defence. He also smothered a left-foot shot from Alexander Hleb before Arsenal went 2-0 ahead.

Henry passed to Hleb on the right and the Belarus midfielder found Fabregas breaking into the area. The Spanish teenager only had Buffon to beat but pulled the ball square to Henry, who controlled it before shooting.

Two minutes later, Vieira was shown the yellow card when he hauled down Reyes in midfield.

Camoranesi gave the Gunners a late fright with a chip from just outside the area that flew past the post with goalkeeper Jens Lehmann well off his line.

But the Italy midfielder was sent off four minutes from the end after a foul on Robin van Persie and he was followed two minutes later by Zebina, who caught Henry’s leg with his right foot near the corner flag.

Still, Wenger was cautious when looking forward to the April 5 return match despite the Italian club’s problems with suspensions and form.

”They missed [Alessandro] Del Piero and [Pavel] Nedved, who are great offensive players and can come back for the next leg,” Wenger said. — Sapa-AP

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