By Trevor Haylett at Highbury
With their first victory in the UEFA Champions League since Matchday 1, Arsenal FC safely secured their passage through the group phase for the fifth successive season. It was an unfamiliar lineup that Arsène Wenger sent out but the English champions nevertheless always carried too much strength and firepower for Rosenborg BK.
A goal after only three minutes by José Antonio Reyes settled the London side's inexperienced players and further strikes from Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas gave the home side a 3-0 lead by the 29th minute. Although Erik Hoftun pulled a goal back, Robert Pires made it 4-1 from the penalty spot shortly before half-time, and substitute Robin van Persie added a late fifth. The victory, together with Panathinaikos FC's win against PSV Eindhoven, ensured Arsenal finished as the Group E winners.
With Patrick Vieira and Lauren suspended and Wenger opting to leave first-choice goalkeeper Jens Lehmann on the sidelines once again, Arsenal could ill afford to lose another player, but when Fredrik Ljungberg reported feeling unwell it necessitated a further switch. Matthieu Flamini and Justin Hoyte were the young replacements in midfield and at right-back respectively while Manuel Almunia remained in goal. It was an inexperienced lineup with so much riding on the result but at least Arsenal could call on Dennis Bergkamp again after injury.
The Dutchman was at the heart of the instant breakthrough. It began with a foul on Reyes and after the free-kick was rolled to Bergkamp he played a neat ball into Reyes's feet. Stepping around Torjus Hansén, the Spaniard placed a low shot under the body of Espen Johnsen.
It was a dream start for the Gunners, removing the intensity from the fixture and lending their inexperienced players a platform to find their feet. Arsenal were strolling and looked capable of breaking through with every attack. They still had to guard against complacency, however, and were almost caught out when a high ball from the left found Harald Brattbakk, but Almunia was quickly down to make a fine save.
Rosenborg did score before the interval - through Hoftun after the Spanish goalkeeper had dropped a free-kick - but it proved a mere interruption to the flow of Arsenal goals. In the 24th minute Henry sprinted past Hansén and beat Johnsen to the ball, lifting it high over the goalkeeper and into the net.
Shortly after Fabregas showed outstanding skill and composure to make it three. Receiving a pass from Pires in the area he nonchantly took the ball over his marker before controlling on his chest and dispatching a left-foot volley into the far corner, in the process becoming the second-youngest goalscorer in Champions League history. After Rosenborg had pulled a goal back there was still time for Arsenal to add a fourth before the break, Pires easily putting away a penalty after Henry had been tripped by the goalkeeper.
The second half was bound to suffer in comparison and with the game all but decided Arsenal inevitably sacrificed a little pace and purpose with Sunday's crucial Premiership meeting against Chelsea FC in mind. Henry shot into the side-netting and Van Persie, seconds after emerging, might have made it five only to miss the target.
Van Persie was more accurate with his right foot soon after but Johnsen saved well. Then Reyes applied a delightful chip to beat the goalkeeper but only found the roof of the net. Van Persie did finally find the net, however, to apply a late flourish.