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Arsenal hold off Steaua recovery

Published: Thursday 13 December 2007, 0.35CET
Arsenal FC 2-1 FC Steaua Bucureşti
Arsène Wenger's side withstood an earnest second-half comeback to maintain their 100 per cent home record.
by Matthew Spiro
from Arsenal Stadium
Arsenal hold off Steaua recovery
Abou Diaby is mobbed by his team-mates after putting Arsenal in front ©Getty Images
Published: Thursday 13 December 2007, 0.35CET

Arsenal hold off Steaua recovery

Arsenal FC 2-1 FC Steaua Bucureşti
Arsène Wenger's side withstood an earnest second-half comeback to maintain their 100 per cent home record.

Arsenal FC maintained their 100 per cent home record in this season's UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 victory against FC Steaua Bucureşti but had to settle for second in Group H following Sevilla FC's victory at SK Slavia Praha. Goals from Abou Diaby and Niklas Bendtner sent the Gunners on their way in a one-sided first half before Dorel Zaharia replied for the rallying visitors, who finish their campaign with a solitary point.

Fast start
With Arsenal having lost their first Premier League game of the season at Middlesbrough FC five days ago, and manager Arsène Wenger resting key players while he himself was confined to the stands due to a touchline ban, Steaua may have felt it was a good time to visit north London. Yet any feeling the hosts might be vulnerable without the likes of Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor quickly evaporated as the Gunners opened at breakneck pace.

Diaby strike
Theo Walcott had already set up a half chance for the fit-again Diaby when another returning player, Robin van Persie, slipped him clean through in the third minute, only for the teenager's low shot to shave the wrong side of Robinson Zapata's far post. The visitors were struggling to deal with Walcott's pace, and moments later the lively Englishman turned past Mihai Neşu before leaving Ionuţ Rada in his wake and shooting over. If Walcott's finishing was lacking, Diaby soon showed his team-mate the way, latching on to Bacary Sagna's near-post cross and steering a rising shot inside Zapata's far post on eight minutes.

Deft shot
Buoyed by his first European goal, the Frenchman surged forward again after the restart and saw his deflected shot saved by Zapata before Steaua finally settled. Nicolae Dică slipped Adrian Neaga clear on the right on 16 minutes, but Armand Traoré's sliding tackle snuffed out the Romanian side's only opening of the first period. After a brief lull, the Gunners finished the half with a flurry, Walcott and Van Persie both missing from promising positions. Bendtner made Arsenal's dominance tell on 42 minutes, however, the Danish international clipping a deft shot beyond Zapata after collecting Van Persie's diagonal pass.

Zapata intervention
The second half was played at a slower pace as Steaua, without a win in this season's group stage, looked content to limit the damage. Zapata's alert goalkeeping denied the English side on the hour, the Colombian custodian racing out to stop Bendtner in his tracks, then completing the save with a timely tackle on Van Persie.

Lăcătuş move
Steaua coach Marius Lăcătuş tried to give his side fresh impetus by introducing Romeo Surdu and Zaharia, and the move paid dividends as the latter scored on 68 minutes, looping a header from Florin Lovin's cross over Jens Lehmann just four minutes after coming on. Arsenal's recalled goalkeeper had been a spectator until then, but the German was grateful for Emmanuel Eboué's intervention seconds later as Steaua rallied. Bendtner was again denied by Zapata, yet Steaua were invigorated by the goal and almost stole a memorable point five minutes from time when Ovidiu Petre's shot flashed just wide of the top corner.

Last updated: 12/12/07 23.01CET

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