Arsenal see off Kiev with late Bendtner strike

Arsenal 1 Dynamo Kiev 0
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The Independent Online

Cesc Fabregas' reign as Arsenal captain began with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev at Emirates Stadium tonight which guided his Gunners into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

The 21-year-old Spaniard has pledged to take the club "as far as it can go" after being handed the armband to succeed deposed William Gallas, stripped of the role following a public outburst criticising the squad's fighting spirit.

And while tonight's display may not have been vintage Arsenal - victory eventually secured by a late strike from substitute Nicklas Bendtner from a quickly-taken long free-kick by Fabregas - the end result was all which mattered as Arsene Wenger's men go into Sunday's crucial Barclays Premier League showdown against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with renewed belief following one of the most testing spells of the past decade.

Gallas, meanwhile, will have restored some of the burned bridges with an assured display at the back which on another night could well have been capped with a goal.

It was a bright start by the young Gunners, whose bench had an average age of just 19 such were the current injury problems for Wenger with some nine players unavailable.

Mexican Carlos Vela and Aaron Ramsey combined down the right to set up the attack-minded Welshman for a near-post effort which was turned behind by the goalkeeper.

After 17 minutes, Robin van Persie sent over a teasing free-kick which looked to be dropping for Gallas in the six-yard box, only for Stanislav Bogush to make a timely punch clear.

The Dutch forward continued to press high on the Kiev back line, as did the busy Vela, yet without any real impact in the final third.

At the other end, some good link-up play from the visitors found Olexandr Aliyev in space, and his shot on the turn was held by Manuel Almunia.

Arsenal then created another opening when Vela's low ball across the six-yard box was missed by the defence and fell to Ramsey at the far post, but his snap shot under pressure flew high into the stands.

A slip by Gallas almost proved costly when he let Ismael Bagoura in down the left, but fortunately for the former captain, the Guinea striker's shot struck the upright.

With five minutes to go to half-time, Van Persie sent in another good delivery from a free-kick on the right which Mikael Silvestre poked over the bar in front of the keeper.

In stoppage time, Gallas flicked the ball into the net from a downward header after a corner, but celebrations were cut short by the assistant's flag for offside.

The defender was then in the thick of the action in front of goal again at the start of the second half, this time deflecting a shot from Van Persie clear when any sort of touch the other way would have steered the ball past the keeper.

Kiev, though, continued to look dangerous on the break and Bagoura saw his low shot flash across goal from the edge of the penalty area.

Vela was now the main outlet for Arsenal as the Mexican teenager continued to make progress down the left.

With 21 minutes left, Wenger replaced the hard-working Ramsey as big Danish striker Bendtner, sporting pink boots, was sent on to freshen up the attack.

However, it was the Ukrainians who continued to look the more likely to break the deadlock with a spell of sustained possession.

Wenger again looked to the future when 16-year-old Jack Wilshere was given another taste of first-team action with 14 minutes to go, replacing Vela, to become Arsenal's youngest European debutant.

A stunning reaction save from Almunia kept Arsenal in it when he raced out to block Artem Milevskiy's snap shot at the far post.

Van Persie drilled a low centre across the six-yard box which was just too far ahead of Bendtner.

The Dane, though, arrived on cue with just three minutes left to latch onto a quickly-taken, long free-kick from Fabregas to hold off the defender and fire Arsenal into the last 16 of Europe's elite club competition.

Kiev's frustration was compounded when Aliyev was show a second yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct after appearing to barge into referee Alain Hamer at a free-kick.

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