Slavia Prague 0 Arsenal 0: Walcott's fellow youngsters pass stern Slavia test

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The Independent Online

Arsenal's youngsters rose to the challenge last night as, without looking even faintly likely to replicate the 7-0 win over Slavia achieved two weeks ago, they earned the point which ensured the club a place in the knock-out stages of the Champions League with two matches remaining in Group H. Victory in the next match, in Seville, will ensure they finish top.

On a raw and rainswept night there was little for the several hundred travelling fans to enthuse about, but they did have the satisfaction of seeing their team validate the decision of their manager, Arsène Wenger, to rest several leading men, including Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini and, for all but the last 13 minutes, Emanuel Adebayor.

Wenger was pleased enough with the performance and made it clear that he would be willing to use the same tactics in Seville.

"We came here to qualify," he said. "The defensive performance was quite good, the offensive performance was average. I felt the conditions were difficult and credit to Slavia, they defended very well and it's difficult to blame the players. I think Slavia felt humiliated after our last match.

"If I feel it's needed in the next two games I might continue to rotate the players. I wouldn't like to blame the youngsters tonight because it was very difficult to find our game. I am convinced they have found it is difficult away in the Champions League and they will do better the next game."

If that seemed a clear hint that Denilson, Theo Walcott and co might see further action in Spain, Wenger emphasised that it was still important to top the group. "That means you have the second game at home and you play the second team in another group so that is another advantage. We can play better than tonight, but the overall performance of the team is outstanding."

Slavia's manager, Karel Jarolim, paid tribute afterwards to the quality of Arsenal's stand-ins, and said his team still had a chance to qualify.

"Arsenal didn't play their strongest line-up, but they showed the quality they have," he said. "When we learnt about a weaker line-up it was a mental lift for the players because we saw the chance to win. We wanted to avoid the mistakes we made in the first match and play more aggressively. I think we managed that and in the entire 90 minutes we didn't allow Arsenal a clear chance.

"This time we were maybe closer to scoring – we had several promising chances, but unfortunately we did not take them. But I believe that this point will have a very big importance for us."

Perhaps the most significant moment on a night of hectic activity that rarely produced clear opportunities occurred five minutes into the second half, when Zdenek Senkerik received the ball near the Arsenal penalty spot and fell under a tackle by Lassana Diarra. The French referee, Bertrand Layec, was not interested.

It may have been coincidence, but as the teams prepared to emerge from the tunnel at the start of the game the PA system had belted out an old Chumbawamba song, "Tubthumping", with its cheery chorus of "I get knocked down, but I get up again." That was clearly the task for Slavia after their then-record hammering at the Emirates a fortnight previously, although their aspirations were hardly helped by the absence of their leading scorer, Ladislav Volesak, who was suspended. They were, however, able to welcome back the former Liverpool forward Vladimir Smicer after a two-month absence with injury.

Slavia's more basic style did yield one decent chance after a quarter of an hour, when Mickael Tavares was allowed a free header from Daniel Pudil's corner on the right. He sent it high over the bar.

The home supporters in a sell-out crowd of 18,000 began to grow restive as Arsenal persisted, and some of them set off fireworks. In immediate response, a recording of a stern female voice intoned twice: "The use of pyrotechnics is strictly forbidden."

There were few enough fireworks on the pitch, although Slavia sparked up after 35 minutes when a slip from William Gallas allowed Senkerik to spin in the box and send a shot narrowly over the bar. Gallas reacted with a mixture of frustration and relief.

Walcott's pace on the right frequently threatened to create a breakthrough for the visitors, but he lost possession too often. In terms of the bigger picture, that did not matter. It seems the 18-year-old will have another chance to shine soon enough.

Slavia Prague (4-4-2): Vorel1; Drizdal, Suchy, Brabec, Hubacek; Krajcik, Svec, Tavares, Pudil (Jablonsky, 88); Smicer (Kalivoda, 64), Senkerikm (Ivana, 77). Substitutes not used: Vaniak (gk), Gaucho, Sourek, Belaid.

Arsenal (4-5-1): Almunia; Diarra, Gallas, Song, Clichy; Walcott, Denilson, Gilberto, Diaby, Eduardo (Eboué, 81); Bendtner (Adebayor, 77). Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Sagna, Flamini, Traoré, Hoyte.

Referee: B Layec (France).

Champions League Group H

Results: Arsenal 3 Seville 0; Slavia Prague 2 Steaua Bucharest 1; Seville 4 Slavia Prague 2; Steaua Bucharest 0 Arsenal 1; Arsenal 7 Slavia Prague 0; Seville 2 Steaua Bucharest 1; Slavia Prague 0 Arsenal 0; Steaua Bucharest 0 Seville 2.

Remaining fixtures: 27 Nov: Seville v Arsenal; Steaua Bucharest v Slavia Prague. 12 Dec: Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest; Slavia Prague v Seville.

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