Clinical Arsenal brush AZ aside

Arsenal FC 4-1 AZ Alkmaar
Captain Cesc Fàbregas scored twice as the unbeaten English side moved four points clear in Group H with just two matches to play.

Clinical Arsenal brush AZ aside
Clinical Arsenal brush AZ aside ©

Two goals from captain Cesc Fàbregas set Arsenal FC on their way to a comfortable victory against AZ Alkmaar which left the Gunners on the verge of qualifying for the last 16 from UEFA Champions League Group H.

On top
Fàbregas scored in the 25th and 52nd minutes, either side of Samir Nasri's first-half strike, before Abou Diaby added a fourth in the 72nd minute and Jeremain Lens grabbed a consolation goal for the visitors. Arsenal top the section by four points from Olympiacos FC – beaten 2-0 at R. Standard de Liège – and need just a point from their remaining two matches to be certain of a place in the first knockout round.

Early pressure
Stung by AZ's added-time equaliser in the Netherlands two weeks ago, Arsenal made their intentions clear from the off. Robin van Persie tried his luck in the fourth minute after a series of short passes put the Dutchman through for an angled drive that flew narrowly wide of the far post. Though it signalled the start of the home team's pressure on the AZ penalty area, a string of clear-cut chances was not to follow.

Fàbregas celebrates
With the Dutch champions' well-organised defence seemingly impervious to aerial attack, it was going to take something special for Arsène Wenger's men to make a breakthrough and that duly arrived when Fàbregas, who had also given his side the lead in Alkmaar, collected the ball on the edge of the box from William Gallas. It may not have looked like a scoring position, and there was not a great deal of power behind his well-concealed shot, but goalkeeper Sergio Romero could only get his glove to the Spaniard's daisy-cutter as it zipped inside the near post.

Second strike
The setback gave AZ more urgency going forward, yet just as Ronald Koeman's charges appeared to be coming back into the game, Arsenal put it further out of their reach. Two minutes before the break, Andrei Arshavin picked up the ball in midfield and fed Nasri, who deftly skirted the last defender before steering a shot into the bottom left-hand corner.

AZ threat
Seven minutes after the interval, Arshavin was again the provider as AZ gave possession away in central midfield and the playmaker slipped the ball through for Fàbregas to smack a first-time effort past Romero. To their credit, AZ shrugged off the latest blow and very nearly pulled one back when Graziano Pellè chested the ball down and volleyed a searing shot which Manuel Almunia parried, sending it against the underside of the bar and out.

Game over
Fàbregas left the field to huge applause when he was replaced by Aaron Ramsey in the 67th minute, with Van Persie also making way for Eduardo in what Wenger clearly believed was a match already won. It certainly seemed that way in the 72nd minute when Eduardo's clever back-heel released Arshavin on the counter and the Russian teed up Diaby to beat Romero from close range. However, the final goal went the way of AZ – who could still qualify in second spot despite propping up the section – as Lens raced through to finish neatly after a swift break on 82 minutes.