Arsenal FC eased to a comfortable victory over R. Standard de Liège as the 2006 UEFA Champions League finalists ensured they would finish top of Group H.
First-half goals from Samir Nasri and Denilson set Arsenal on their way to a convincing success which confirmed the north London side qualified for the last 16 with one game still to play. Their Belgian opponents, who finished the match with ten men after an 86th-minute red card for Mehdi Carcela-González, now face a real battle to overhaul second-placed Olympiacos FC.
Arsenal tore into Standard from the off and it was a miracle the hosts were not a goal up in the 15th minute when a Cesc Fàbregas corner from the right yielded chances for Andrei Arshavin, Carlos Vela, William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen – whose efforts were either blocked or hit the woodwork in a mad scramble. Arsenal might well have rued their luck, because they were fortunate not to fall behind when Standard striker Dieudonné Mbokani turned Vermaelen on the edge of the penalty area and unleashed a shot that cannoned off the crossbar.
Clash of heads
The Gunners were temporarily down to nine men in the 33rd minute after a nasty clash of heads between Gallas and Arshavin as they vied for a Fàbregas cross, and the Russian playmaker was still off the pitch a couple of minutes later when his team forged ahead. Vermaelen launched a long ball forward from just inside the Arsenal half, defender Landry Mulemo slipped over and Nasri scurried through to steer past Sinan Bolat.
Further opportunities promptly came Arsenal's way when Nasri dinked through for Arshavin, who sent a rasping shot centimetres wide, while Fàbregas had no better luck with an angled effort that rolled narrowly beyond the far post. The pressure paid off in added time, though, as Denilson collected the ball from Kieran Gibbs some 25 metres out and struck a dipping shot that flew over Bolat's flailing arms.
Gallas, whose right eye was closing after the collision with Arshavin, was replaced in central defence by Mikaël Silvestre at the restart as Arsenal returned to the task of clinching the points. Momentum remained with the home side, though the tempo eased compared with the opening 45 minutes, causing Arsène Wenger to replace Nasri with Theo Walcott.
Walcott wasted little time making his presence felt, rifling a low attempt across the face of the Standard goal, though it was one of a dwindling number of presentable openings. Wenger's men became increasingly intent on keeping possession and making sure it stayed in the opposition half, rather than carving out scoring chances.
Though Arsenal looked firmly in control in the closing stages, there was nearly a sting in the tail when Standard defender Mohamed Sarr smacked a low shot on to the base of the post. Carcela-González then got his marching orders for László Bölöni's team, while Arsenal saw out the closing minutes to seal victory.