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Arsenal FC secured their place in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round, but were fortunate to claim a point with a goalless draw at SK Slavia Praha as goalkeeper Manuel Almunia twice denied the Czech side revenge for their 7-0 thrashing on Matchday 3.
Slavia coach Karel Jarolím had urged his team to be tougher in one-on-one situations than they had been a fortnight previously against the Group H leaders, and from the way his players snapped busily at their opponents early on, it was evident the message had been received. Abou Diaby – one of seven changes to Arsenal's starting lineup from the clubs' London encounter – was the only man able to escape the shackles as he roamed forward promisingly from midfield.
With their defence keeping Arsenal at arm's length, Slavia's confidence slowly grew and this should have resulted in them taking a shock lead with 14 minutes on the clock after Zdeněk Šenkeřík's persistence had earned the hosts a corner. Daniel Pudil's pacy delivery left the Arsenal rearguard static, but having escaped the attentions of Alexandre Song, Slavia midfielder Mickaël Tavares was unable to keep his header down.
The threat from Arsenal – spearheaded by Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo da Silva as Emmanuel Adebayor dropped to the bench – was intermittent as Diaby's influence faded. Slavia found that their own brand of passing football could stretch the Premier League pacesetters and a swift move down the left, involving Vladimír Šmicer and the tireless Šenkeřík, saw a Tavares shot blocked on 35 minutes.
Barely 60 seconds later, Šenkeřík, who was proving to be a tailor-made replacement for the Prague outfit's injured top scorer Stanislav Vlček, almost took advantage when William Gallas slipped on the rain-sodden surface; however, Almunia produced a flying stop to tip over the Slavia forward's fiercely struck effort.
In the mood
A half-time downpour did little to dampen the now buoyant atmosphere inside the sold-out Evžena Rošického Stadium, nor could it diminish Slavia's determination when they returned to the pitch. Šmicer, leading the side on his first appearance in this season's group stage, whipped in a menacing cross which required a solid defensive header from Lassana Diarra three minutes after the restart.
Diarra was involved again two minutes later when Slavia felt they were denied a penalty. Matej Krajčík made a penetrating burst down the right before feeding the onrushing Šmicer. The 2005 UEFA Champions League winner was unable to control the ball but deflected it into the path of Šenkeřík. As the Slavia striker appeared poised to shoot, he was clumsily barged into by Diarra yet referee Bertrand Layec waved away Slavia's appeals.
Krajčík was also the architect of Slavia's most dangerous move of the game 15 minutes from time when his pinpoint pass found Šenkeřík surging past Gallas, yet Almunia again came to Arsenal's rescue with a courageous block. Arsène Wenger's men could have broken the deadlock themselves late on through Adebayor but the substitute's header was comfortably gathered by Slavia keeper Michal Vorel.
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