Thierry Henry made a spectacular return from injury to score both goals as Arsenal FC recorded a third successive victory in UEFA Champions League Group B, defeating AC Sparta Praha 2-0 in Prague.
The French international had not played since hitting France's winner in the FIFA World Cup Group 4 qualifier in the Republic of Ireland on 7 September, suffering a groin problem in the same game. He made an early comeback here as a 15th-minute substitute, however, and struck a spectacular opener within six minutes of his arrival before adding a second in the closing stages - making him Arsenal's record scorer with 186 goals in all competitions - to leave the Londoners with a five-point lead in the section, and Sparta ruing missed opportunities.
Sparta coach Stanislav Griga made two changes to the team that beat FK Chmel Blšany 5-2 at the weekend, bringing in a defender and a forward in Pavel Pergl and Miroslav Slepička. For their part, Arsenal FC made three alterations having lost 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion FC on Saturday, with Philippe Senderos, Fredrik Ljungberg and Dennis Bergkamp making way for Pascal Cygan, Gilberto - who also took over as captain - and Robin van Persie.
Despite sections of Sparta's stadium being closed as a punishment for racist chanting during the Matchday 1 game against AFC Ajax, both sets of fans were in good voice. Within ten minutes, Zdeněk Pospěch had gone close for the home side, connecting with a cross in the area but failing to get any power in his shot. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger had surprisingly included Henry on the bench, announcing his intention to introduce the striker for the final half-hour. In the event, José Antonio Reyes was forced off on the quarter-hour after two heavy tackles, allowing Henry to come on to the delight of Arsenal's travelling support.
His pace and vision soon began to unsettle the home defence, and he quickly reminded everyone of his undoubted class, deftly controlling a long pass from Kolo Touré, turning and curving the ball beyond Sparta goalkeeper Jaromír Blažek from the edge of the area with the outside of his right foot.
The visitors then started to drop deeper, but despite some well-organised Arsenal defending, Sparta's pressure occasionally looked like paying off. Pospěch connected with another left-wing cross but failed to find the target. Slepička tested Jens Lehmann - returning from a two-match suspension - with a clever back-flick from Lukáš Zelenka's corner, but the Arsenal No1 dealt easily with the threat.
Sparta continued to push for an equaliser as the second period kicked off, Slovakian international Karol Kisel forcing Lehmann to tip a long-range effort over the crossbar. As the half unfolded, though, Griga's men were increasingly frustrated while remaining vulnerable on the break thanks to the pace and stealth of Henry. Arsenal's occasional forays into opposition territory carried an air of genuine menace, Henry's incisive ball into the Sparta area setting up Cesc Fabregas for a shot Blažek did well to block.
Attempting to reinvigorate his attack, Griga withdrew defender Pergl in favour of the more attack-minded Miroslav Matušovič. Almost immediately, though, Henry effectively settled the contest, latching on to a sweeping Robert Pirès pass and shooting nervelessly past Blažek. Wenger will be delighted his gamble was so handsomely rewarded, while Sparta remain bottom of the table.