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Arsenal FC emerged from their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first-leg tie at AC Sparta Praha with a two-goal advantage and one foot in the group stage thanks to second-half goals from Cesc Fabregas and Aleksandr Hleb.
Fabregas scored the opening goal of a physical match in Prague, where Arsenal repelled the best efforts of the home side before striking on 72 minutes and then in added time through Hleb to secure the initiative going into the second leg on 29 August.
Arsenal and Sparta were no strangers having met as recently as the group stage of 2005/06. Then, as in the sides' two other previous encounters, the London club came out on top but the Czech champions stated their intent early here with some tough tackling – captain Tomáš Řepka leading by example.
Sparta nearly went ahead with eight minutes played when Pavel Horváth's deep cross was fired against the inside of the post by the late-arriving Jan Rezek. Having survived that scare, Arsenal, finalists two seasons ago, created their best two chances of the half. First Fabregas had a volley pushed behind for a corner by Tomáš Poštulka, before the Sparta custodian was called into action again to beat away a Robin van Persie free-kick.
Arsenal were not being allowed to settle due to Sparta's high-pressure game, and the visitors were helped out by the departure of Řepka, who hobbled off with a knee injury ten minutes before the break. The Premier League outfit improved after the restart and ten minutes in, Van Persie turned smartly only to see his shot thwarted by Poštulka.
Arsenal began to dictate affairs and when the goal did arrive, it came via left-back Gaël Clichy. The Frenchman went on a mazy run before slipping the ball into Fabragas's path and he made no mistake to slot it low past Poštulka. Jens Lehmann had to be alert as Sparta rallied but Arsenal would have the final say: Hleb was supplied by Bacary Sagna and slipped the ball calmly under the advancing Poštulka.
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