Languid Arsenal leave it late

Group B: Arsenal FC and Ajax AFC both earned battling wins, but AC Sparta Praha and FC Thun both suffered demoralising away defeats.

FK Teplice 2-1 AC Sparta Praha

Sparta suffered their third league defeat in a row, leaving them in ninth position and in danger of slipping further down the table after Monday's other fixtures. Coach Jaroslav Hřebík opted to start with Tomáš Grigar instead of Jaromír Blažek in goal, but Grigar found himself picking the ball out of the net as early as the tenth minute when Petr Benát put Teplice in front. Tomáš Poláček's long-range effort levelled the scores on 23 minutes, but Grigar completed a match to forget eleven minutes later when his error presented Emil Rilke with the chance to restore the lead.

"We lost the game by an unlucky goal, though we did improve after they scored," said Hřebík. "My selections for the game were based on the players I felt were in the best shape." Sparta had already suffered a setback prior to the match when captain Tomáš Sivok was ruled out for the remainder of the UEFA Champions League group stage after undergoing knee surgery on Friday.

Arsenal FC

Arsenal required a late deflected goal to earn victory against a stubborn Birmingham side, who played for over an hour with ten men after Kenny Cunningham was dismissed on 24 minutes. Thierry Henry and Philippe Senderos were still missing through respective groin and back injuries, but Gilberto was restored after recovering from an ankle problem and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann returned from suspension. Manager Arsène Wenger was further boosted by the sight of Dennis Bergkamp on the substitutes' bench after recent groin and back troubles.

However, it was another returning figure, that of Robin van Persie - suspended in midweek - who proved pivotal at Highbury. The Dutch striker came on as a substitute for Robert Pirès, who saw a first-half penalty saved, and made an immediate impact when his 81st-minute shot was deflected into the net by the hapless Stephen Clemence.

"I can understand that Birmingham feel hard done by to concede a goal after fighting so hard, and the way that they conceded it is difficult to take," said Wenger. "But they were tired, and we were a little bit tired at the end too. Today I was happy to score a scrappy goal."

Sparta Rotterdam 1-2 AFC Ajax

Two goals from Nigel de Jong saw Ajax earn a battling win as they were forced to come from behind at Sparta. The home side took the lead through Sjaak Polak six minutes after the restart, but Danny Blind's side fought back well, and De Jong equalised just after the hour mark after combining with Steven Pienaar. The South African midfield player was again involved in the winner 13 minutes from time but De Jong credited the upturn in performance to Blind.

"We started very badly," the midfield player said. "The coach went mad at us at half-time, but we recovered well after going behind. These are the kind of games a club like Ajax is obliged to win." The Amsterdam outfit had a lengthy injury list to contend with prior to the game, with Angelos Charisteas (concussion), Julien Escudé (flu), Maxwell, Nicolae Mitea and Kenneth Vermeer (all knee), Mauro Rosales (groin), Wesley Sneijder (hamstring), Maarten Stekelenburg (shoulder), Tomás Galásek (ankle) and the suspended Olaf Lindenbergh all absent.

FC Basel 1893 5-1 FC Thun

After achieving their first Champions League triumph on Tuesday, FC Thun were brought back down to earth at St. Jakob Park, after being comprehensively defeated by Basel. David Degen opened the scoring for the Swiss champions on the stroke of half-time, before Mladen Petric struck a second-half hat-trick to put the result beyond doubt. German forward Eren Sen replied for Thun with five minutes remaining, but Papa Malick Ba restored Basel's four-goal advantage soon after.

Thun had made only one change from the side that defeated Sparta as Tiago Bernardi was still suffering from concussion. Tuesday's match-winner Selver Hodzic soon joined him on the sidelines, however, after sustaining a knee injury, and without him the Bernese outfit went on to lose emphatically. They have now won just one of their last five games in the Swiss Football League.

Midfield player Silvan Aegerter said: "We are very disappointed. Our goal here was at least to get one point, we had high ambitions, but weren't aggressive enough and Basel played well. But I don't think that there is reason to worry, we will soon win again."

Top