(Arsenal win 5-0 on aggregate)
By Richard Clarke
Arsenal booked their ticket for another European excursion with a straight-forward 3-0 victory over Sparta Prague at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
Arsène Wenger's side went into this Champions League third qualifying round second leg tie with a handsome 2-0 lead from the away leg so the competitive edge was all but lost when Tomas Rosicky put the home side head after just seven minutes.
Sparta had their chances after that however Arsenal's fortunes were always in their own hands this evening.
Just for good measure, substitute Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo added goals in the final eight minutes. But this had been a night when Wenger's men had one simple aim - qualification for the Champions League group stages. And they achieved it with quiet competence.
The draw takes place on Thursday at 5pm UK time.
Wenger's side showed five changes from the team that had beaten Manchester City on Saturday. Emmanuel Adebayor, Alex Hleb and Fabregas dropped to the bench for Eduardo, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby to come in.
Philippe Senderos, who had injured his ankle in the warm-up at the weekend, returned to the team and so Gilberto moved into central midfield to replace Mathieu Flamini. Bacary Sagna had hurt his back in collision with the Frenchman against Manchester City so Justin Hoyte came in at right back for his first game of the season.
There was an air of confidence before kick-off. Arsenal had given themselves a huge chance of qualification by winning in Prague a fortnight ago. You sensed their biggest threat was complacency.
That threat would last precisely seven minutes. That is how long it took Walcott to drop his shoulder, dart to the byline and cut back a low cross for Rosicky to sweep home.
The midfielder barely celebrated the goal. In the build-up to the first game, the former Sparta star had talked of his debt to the Czech champions.
The goal killed off any lingering tension in the tie. Sparta would now need to score four to progress. In any case, the visitors were struggling to get put together a worthy attack while Arsenal were looking increasingly threatening.
On the quarter-hour, Rosicky sent Eduardo clear on the left and his curling cross was met by the stretching Van Persie at the far post. However his contact was poor.
Walcott and Eduardo were lively. The home side had that three-goal comfort zone and these two were clearly enjoying it. When Marek Kulic cracked a deflected effort over the bar in the 25th minute it represented the first real danger on the Arsenal goal.
The threat was all going the other way. On the half-hour, Diaby diverted a back-header just past the far post from Van Persie's curling free-kick.
In fairness, Sparta had a flurry of chances just after that. Pavel Horvath rifled a shot wide then sent Jan Rezek clear but the midfielder clipped his shot wide when he should have scored.
Just before half time, Van Persie sent over a corner from the right and Eduardo's effort had to be scooped off the line.
To be honest, at the break the game was threatening to peter out. Arsenal had the tie in a stranglehold and, though they had loosened their grip after tonight's opener, Sparta were never going to snatch control.
The visitors did raise their game after the interval. Horvath's corner was inadvertently nodded on by Hoyte at the near post and Almunia had to palm the ball off his own line. Shortly afterwards, the same Sparta player fell under Toure's challenge in the area but the referee waved play on.
But, just before Wenger brought on Emmanuel Adebayor and Fabregas, Michal Kadlec's nodded behind from Van Persie's free-kick. From the corner, Gilberto headed over.
Arsenal had upped the tempo a few notches once more and Sparta could not cope. Eight minutes from time, Eduardo breezed past his marker on the left and cut the ball back for Fabregas to fire home a second from the edge of the area.
On the whistle the Croatian turned in a cross from Denilson to register his first competitive goal since signing from Dinamo Zagreb in the summer.
- Walcott Yellow Card
- Diaby 68
- Rosicky 73 Goal!
- Persie 68
- Eduardo Goal!
- Fabregas 68 Goal!
- Denilson 73
- Adebayor 68
- Repka Yellow Card
- Husek Yellow Card
- Kladrubsky 76
- Kulic 46 Yellow Card
- Rezek 73
- Limbersky 76
- Kolar 73
- Zofcak 46