Gunners cruise into knockout stages

Arsenal 2 Standard Liege 0
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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger got the perfect response he demanded as Arsenal secured a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Standard Liege at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners boss had called for his side to raise their game in the wake of a lacklustre defeat at Sunderland - and his pre-match rallying call had also included reminding Arsenal's World Cup hopefuls of just who pays their wages.

Even without injured Holland forward Robin van Persie, the Barclays Premier League side - who host leaders Chelsea on Sunday - had too much class for the Belgians.

First-half goals from Samir Nasri and Denilson, smashing in a 30-yard strike, set the Gunners on their way to the knockout stages of Europe's elite club competition for the 10th campaign in succession as they won Group H with a match to spare.

The tone had been set from kick-off as Arsenal started brightly with a string of quick-passing moves.

Nasri cut a pass back rather than shoot when played into the right side of the Standard penalty area after five minutes - by which time in Liege, the Gunners were already 2-0 behind.

Arsenal then somehow failed to put the ball in the net during a goalmouth scramble following a corner.

First, Andrey Arshavin's header was saved by Sinan Bolat, with Mexico teenager Carlos Vela, deployed tonight as the central striker, lashing the rebound against the post.

The Standard keeper then twice denied William Gallas' follow-up before Thomas Vermaelen drilled his shot towards the top corner - only for the ball to cannon off Arshavin on the goalline.

Emmanuel Eboue went down under what looked minimal, if any, contact from Eliaquim Mangala, but Austrian referee Konrad Plautz was having none of it.

The travelling Standard fans had seen little to cheer about during the opening 20 minutes, but were almost celebrating when Congo striker Dieudonne Mbokani rattled the angle after cutting inside from the edge of the Arsenal area.

Arsenal were, though, soon back in the ascendancy.

Arshavin headed over, and in the process, collided with Gallas, which left both men needing treatment and Arsenal temporarily down to nine men.

Gallas came back on nursing a cut to his eye, while Arshavin needed some staples to close up a bloody gash on the top of his head.

As the Russian jogged back along the near touchline, Arsenal took the lead on 35 minutes.

Vermaelen's long ball forwards was missed by Landry Mulemo after the defender slipped on the edge of the penalty area, which allowed Nasri in, and he made no mistake, lashing a half-volley past Bolat.

Arshavin almost doubled the lead when his first-time shot from the edge of the box flew only inches wide.

There was, on 39 minutes, an almighty let-off for Arsenal when Gallas clearly bundled over Reginal Goreux as he dashed into the penalty area - but the referee waved play on.

In first-half stoppage time, Denilson - just returning from a back injury - crashed home a second goal from 30 yards, the ball swerving through the air as it flew over Bolat to give the young Brazilian something to remember in his 100th Arsenal appearance.

Gallas was replaced for the second half by veteran Mikael Silvestre, making only his fourth appearance of the season.

Standard midfielder Axel Witsel - who has served a lengthy ban following an X-rated tackle which left Anderlecht's Marcin Wasilewski with a broken leg - collected a quick free-kick on his chest, but, just four yards out, could not guide the ball past Manuel Almunia.

On the hour, Nasri made way as Wenger introduced Theo Walcott, the England forward hoping to keep fit for the rest of the campaign as he targets a place in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad.

Walcott almost had an instant impact when he drove a low shot across goal from a tight angle.

Standard substitute Gohi Bi Cyriac struck the base of the post, before the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez pushed his forehead into the face of Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas, who creditably did not go down, and was shown a straight red card.

Arsenal created chances to add a third, through Eboue and Alex Song, but had already done enough to make sure of safe progress ahead of next month's trip to Olympiacos.