Arsenal 3 Sparta Prague 0 <i>(Arsenal win 5-0 on agg)</i>: Fabregas the sorcerer works his magic to usher Arsenal into the promised land

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The Independent Online

So comprehensively did Arsenal take this tie that when it came to Cesc Fabregas being confronted by Tomas Repka at the end of the match, all the Sparta Prague captain wanted was the young midfielder's shirt.

Two weeks ago the former West Ham hardman had wanted Fabregas's blood after he hobbled off the pitch following a heavy tackle. The damage was done in Prague and last night was little more than a midweek exercise in easing players back for Arsenal whose season is quickly gathering an exciting momentum.

Fabregas scored in the Czech capital and scored again in this game after coming on as a second-half substitute perhaps to save him from some early retribution from a fired-up Repka. The Spaniard, wearing a black armband, dedicated his goal to Antonio Puerta, his international team-mate and friend – they made their debuts together – who died the day before this game after suffering multiple heart attacks.

"That was for him," an emotional Fabregas said afterwards. "The goal was for him and everything was for him because he was 22-years-old and the way he died was a tragedy. It's difficult to express my feelings. You never know what is going to happen so you have to enjoy every moment both in football and in your life. He was a great guy. He loved football."

If that dedication was appropriate then so was the conciliatory approach taken by Repka at the final whistle. Even such an aggressive competitor as him knows when the game is up and it was certainly over inside seven minutes when Tomas Rosicky, the former Sparta player to add salt to the wounds, opened the scoring and settled any doubts.

It was a finely constructed goal, the kind of goal Arsenal build their play around achieving, with Justin Hoyte quickly finding Theo Walcott down the left flank. The teenager shifted the ball, creating space, and cut his cross back to the onrushing Rosicky. He instantly, and with unusual efficiency, side-footed it into the net for his first goal of the season.

The goal also encapsulated exactly why great hopes are harboured for Walcott who had a fine first-half. "Theo has the quality that he can be decisive," Wenger said. "He's very direct and quick and is improving his link-play and is more aggressive. He can make a difference. There are not that kind of strikers who have his qualities in England."

But soon familiar failings took over. Maybe it was because it was all too easy, but Arsenal certainly eased up. Half chances were wasted by Robin van Persie and Abou Diaby before a perceptive pass by Pavel Horvath caught out Gael Clichy. Suddenly Jan Rezek was beyond the full-back but he lifted his shot wide.

Then a Horvarth corner was inadvertently headed towards his own goal by Hoyte although Manuel Almunia was alert to push the ball away before Zdenek Pospech, picked out inside the area, lazily lifted a shot over the bar. A stray pass by Gilberto Silva and a wretched stumble by Philippe Senderos, having an unsteady evening, confirmed that Arsenal had become becalmed.

Wenger reacted by introducing his young sorcerer, Fabregas. He worked his magic. Suddenly there was fresh impetus and a few familiar tricks. He slipped a pass to Eduardo da Silva, a hard-working presence throughout, and the Croatian striker knocked the ball beyond Pospech, leaving the full-back floundering. Da Silva then returned the ball to Fabregas who calmly slotted home his third goal of the season.

Finally Da Silva himself scored – for the first time since his summer move from Dynamo Zagreb. It was the kind of predatory finish Arsenal crave as he met Denilson's right-wing cross on the volley from the edge of the six-yard area. "He's a box player," purred Wenger –which is a description not normally attached to Arsenal strikers.

It was also another move rich in promise in what is shaping to be a season full of potential. "We have met a team who are supposed to win the Champions League," said the Sparta coach Michal Bilek. It sounded like a compliment but the "supposed to" made that a bit hazy. Not that Wenger will care. He knows the direction in which his team is heading.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Hoyte, Senderos, Touré, Clichy; Walcott, Gilberto, Diaby (Fabregas, 68), Rosicky (Denilson, 73); Van Persie (Adebayor, 68), Eduardo. Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Hleb, Flamini, Bendtner.

Sparta Prague (4-5-1): Postulka; Pospech, Kadlec, Repka, Kladrubsky (Limbersky, 77); Kulic (Zofcak, h-t), Abraham, Husek, Horvath, Rezek (Kolar, 73); Dosek. Substitutes not used: Kozacik (gk), Slepicka, Kisel, Brezinsky.

Referee: F De Bleeckere (Belgium).

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