Arsenal set to clinch entry into knockout stage

Arsenal can advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League by beating Slavia Prague on Wednesday.

Arsenal, which beat Slavia 7-0 on October 23 to equal the biggest margin of victory in the Champions League, hasn’t conceded a goal in the competition this season and can extend its overall unbeaten streak to 19.

The Gunners lead Group H with nine points, three ahead of Sevilla and six in front of Slavia. Steaua Bucharest is last with zero points.

”Our major target is not to be complacent,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. ”We want to qualify as quickly as possible and can achieve that at Slavia Prague.

”You have to finish the job,” Wenger said. ”For us it means a lot [to advance to the knockout stage].”

Slavia coach Karel Jarolim is wary after his team was destroyed at Emirates Stadium two weeks ago.

”We learned a lesson from the that result,” Jarolim said. ”We have to be extremely cautious.”

Wenger said he will give striker Theo Walcott another start after he scored two goals against Slavia.

”He’s doing well at the moment. I give him experience as much as I can but as well he’s very close to the team,” Wenger said.

Wenger also said Cesc Fabregas and Aleksandr Hleb stayed in London as part of his rotation system, and added that midfielder Tomas Rosicky underwent a scan and could be fit on Monday.

”It’s a minor, minor, minor problem,” Wenger said. ”We hope so.”

Eduardo da Silva is also eager to start after scoring two goals in Arsenal’s 3-0 League Cup win over Sheffield United on October 31. Da Silva joined in the off-season from Dinamo Zagreb.

”I am adapting at my own pace and I am on track,” Da Silva said. ”I am getting my chances and making the most of them. I just need to wait for my opportunities.”

The Gunners drew their last two games in the Premier League — against Liverpool and Manchester United — but lead the standings on goals scored. While Slavia tops the Czech league, six points clear of local rival Sparta.

”We lead the Czech league, but the Champions League is at a completely different level — Arsenal is in a different class,” said Slavia midfielder Vladimir Smicer, who scored for Liverpool to beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.

Slavia captain Stanislav Vlcek is his team’s top scorer in the league this season with seven goals. He also had two against Ajax in qualifying to send Slavia to the Champions League group stage for the first time. But he’s out after injuring his calf on Saturday.

”Even a draw would be a success for us,” Vlcek said.

Striker Petr Janda and midfielder Dusan Svento are also out with knee injuries. Backup goalkeeper Michal Vorel is set to replace Martin Vaniak, who has conceded 11 goals in the last two Champions League games.

Wenger said he will stick with goalkeeper Manuel Almunia despite criticism of his performance in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Manchester United.

”I believe in sticking with one goalkeeper,” Wenger said. ”[Jens] Lehmann was injured and Almunia has done extremely well since then for 10 games on the trot. I didn’t want to disturb the side, and until now he has done very well.”

It will be Arsenal’s second trip to Prague for a Champions League game this season, after a 2-0 win at Sparta Prague in qualifying on August 15. – Sapa-AP

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