Arsenal's success marred by brawl

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English pride was restored by a French touch last night as Arsenal reached the second stage of the Champions' League for the first time with a tempestuous draw in the Stadio Olimpico.

English pride was restored by a French touch last night as Arsenal reached the second stage of the Champions' League for the first time with a tempestuous draw in the Stadio Olimpico.

Trailing to a freak 24th- minute goal from Pavel Nedved, which left their stand-in goalkeeper John Lukic stranded, Arsenal snatched the point they needed to progress through a masterful finish by Robert Pires in the 88th minute. They still required a goal-line clearance from Patrick Vieira, and the referee's annulment of an injury-time Lazio winner, to hold on, but they deserved their reward.

Their joy was marred, however, by an ugly post-match fracas involving several players which could lead to censure from Uefa, European football's governing body. This was partly provoked by an incident involving Gilles Grimandi and Diego Simeone which left the Argentinian furious and requiring six stitches. Grimandi appeared to have struck Simeone, but said: "He was pulling my shirt. I pushed him away and caught him with my hand. I didn't mean to hurt him."

In addition, Grimandi alleged Lazio players had abused Patrick Vieira before the match and were "spitting in our faces during it." He added: "They said some awful things to Patrick. They were trying to upset him. It was a very strange atmosphere and very difficult." Indeed, it was reported that Simeone was waiting for Grimandi in the tunnel after the game to continue the dispute.

With Arsenal players also being pelted by missiles from Lazio supporters, the incidents evoked memories of the infamous meeting between the clubs in 1971 which ended with a fight between the players of both sides at a Roman restaurant. The trouble was then reported to have spilled over into the streets, with the Arsenal players trapped inside thestadium while police sought to quell the violence.

Despite all this, the night was a triumph for Arsÿne Wenger, especially as his side were without David Seaman and Tony Adams. But while the clamour to appoint him England coach will inevitably increase after this result so will Arsenal's desire to keep him.

"With three minutes to go I still felt there was enough time to score," he said. "This team has a remarkable spirit and it has shown it again tonight."

With Shakhtar Donetsk defeating Sparta Prague in Ukraine the draw was enough to put Arsenal through with two games to spare. They join Real Madrid and Valencia, last year's finalists, as the first qualifiers.

Luck had seemed against Arsenal from the moment Seaman and Adams were ruled out with back injuries less than three hours before kick-off. Arsenal have become increasing used to doing without Adams, but with Alex Manninger still incapacitated with a knee injury Seaman's absence meant Lukic was forced to play his first match since March 1997.

Lukic, 40 in December, became the oldest player to take part in the Champions' League. His return recalled unhappy memories of his last appearance in the competition eight years ago. Then he punched a corner into his own net as Leeds United were knocked out by Rangers and, 58 minutes into last night's match, a repeat seemed imminent as Sinisa Mihajlovic's corner dropped over him to strike the inside of the far post. However, it bounced out and television replays revealed Marcelo Salas to have guided it on to the woodwork with his hand.

Arsenal, who are now unbeaten in 12 matches since their opening day defeat at Sunderland, had begun brightly. Vieira, who had been linked in the morning with a move to Lazio in the Roman press, was dominant in midfield and Thierry Henry a nuisance in attack, but the early chances fell to a wasteful Grimandi.

Lazio responded with a Nedved cross which screamed in vain for an attacker's caress, but Arsenal then seemed to have their measure until Lazio received a slice of luck so outrageous one wondered whether their recent Papal blessing had prompted divine intervention.

A pass into the box by Juan Veron found its way towards Nedved but, as he went to control it, Silvinho attempted to hack clear. The ball looped up out of the challenge, arched slowly over Lukic, and in off the crossbar. As jammy as a dodger.

They all count the same though, fluke or stunner, and Arsenal now needed a goal of their own. Silvinho nearly delivered. Exploiting a misjudgement by Dejan Stankovic he skipped into the box, eluding Alessandro Nesta before attempting to scoop the ball over Angelo Peruzzi. The ball bounced off the keeper's chest to Nwankwo Kanu but the Nigerian's back-flick rolled wide.

Though Lukic had to make a sharp save from a Mihajlovic free-kick, Arsenal finished the half the more dominant side, but Lazio were revived by the break and should have settled the tie within a minute of the restart.

Yet Inzaghi, preferred ahead of £54m pair, Hernan Crespo and Claudio Lopez, dragged his shot wide after being sent clear. With Nedved also going close with a flying header Arsenal were hanging on, but they survived.

Wenger threw on his forwards, one by one, and with the seconds ticking away they repaid his faith as Sylvain Wiltord's long ball dropped over Nesta's head and Pires ran through to score with aplomb. Lazio tore forward and seemed to have scored as, after Vieira blocked a Salas shot, Lee Dixon's clearance cannoned off Wiltord into the net. However, Crespo was been penalised for dangerous play and Arsenal went through.

Lazio (4-4-2): Peruzzi; Negro, Mihajlovic, Nesta, Pancaro; Stankovic (Lopez, h-t), Veron, Simeone, Nedved; Inzaghi (Crespo, 68) Salas. Substitutes not used: Marchegiani (gk), Baronio, Favalli, Couto, Lombardo.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Lukic; Dixon, Luzhny, Keown, Silvinho; Parlour (Pires, 59), Grimandi (Lauren, 69), Vieira, Ljungberg (Wiltord, 73); Kanu; Henry. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Adams, Vivas, Cole.

Referee: H Krug (Germany).

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