Croatian resistance crumbles before Arsenal

Arsenal all but guaranteed themselves a place in the group stages of the Champions League in Zagreb on Tuesday after cruising to a 3-0 victory away to Dinamo Zagreb.

A two-goal burst from Cesc Fabregas either side of a strike from Robin van Persie was just reward for the English Premiership side, who controlled this final preliminary-round first-leg tie throughout.

Only a miraculous performance from the Croatians in the second leg at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in a fortnight will deny Arsene Wenger’s young side a place in the last 32 of the world’s richest club competition.

Fabregas, still only 19, set Arsenal on their way in the 63rd minute, rifling in a low shot after being played in by Dutch World Cup star Van Persie.

Van Persie made it 2-0 just more than a minute later, latching on to a long ball from Alexander Hleb and burying an angled shot beyond Dinamo goalkeeper Ivan Turina.

Fabregas completed a superb night’s work with a magical individual goal, surging into the Dinamo area and drilling home an unstoppable shot on 79 minutes.

Victory was all the more impressive for the Gunners as it was achieved without several key players, including skipper Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and England international Ashley Cole.

Wenger’s decision to leave Jose Antonio Reyes on the bench is also bound to fuel speculation that the Spanish international could be leaving London for Real Madrid.

Reyes has been the subject of constant reports linking him to a move back to Spain, and British newspapers carried photos of the unsettled player posing in a Real Madrid shirt on Tuesday.

By leaving Reyes on the bench, Wenger ensured the midfielder won’t be cup tied for the remainder of the competition should Real decide to mount a formal transfer raid.

The absence of so many regulars was hardly felt by the Gunners, however, as they quickly settled into their familiar, neat passing game. With the exception of one or two minor forays into the Arsenal box, Dinamo were left chasing shadows for much of the opening 45 minutes as last year’s beaten finalists monopolised possession.

For all their domination, Arsenal were unable to make it count, however, and clear goal-scoring chances were thin on the ground early on. Van Persie looked the man most likely to break the deadlock, but saw an eighth-minute free kick fly high and wide, and an 18th minute 25-yarder deflected and saved by Turina.

New signing Tomas Rosicky also caught the eye, the Czech international surging forward with purpose and unsettling the Croatian side’s back four.

Another member of Arsenal’s World Cup contingent, Togo’s Emmanuel Adebayor, also looked in touch, testing Turina with a long-range shot that flew wide.

But it was a different story in the second half and when Fabregas sent Arsenal 1-0 up, the flood gates opened as the Croatian resistance crumbled.—Sapa-AFP


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