Dynamo Zagreb 0 Arsenal 3: Fabregas class puts Arsenal on brink of joining big guns

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The Independent Online

Jose Antonio Reyes appears to have played his last game for Arsenal but it is that other Spanish tiro, Cesc Fabregas, whose future was always more important to Arsène Wenger's side. The 19-year-old has been awarded the No 4 shirt of Patrick Vieira and last night he scored twice on his 100th appearance as Arsenal effectively secured their passage into the highly lucrative group stages of the Champions' League.

With those strikes, and another by the precocious Robin van Persie, the growing concerns that they would be happy to escape this first leg against the Croatian champions with a draw instantly evaporated. They can now look forward to the return leg in two weeks bolstered by their advantage and the knowledge that their big names will be back. If needed.

Reyes is unlikely to be among them. When Fabregas scored his first, to break the increasingly nervy deadlock, he celebrated on the field and then, on his own, ran to plant a kiss on Reyes' cheek as he stood in the dug-out. It was an adios.

Before the match Reyes' agent, Rodrigues de Moya, said that the winger's future depended on whether he was named in the Arsenal line-up. He was not, despite forceful claims from Wenger that he would be, meaning he is not cup-tied for another club. And that other club is Real Madrid. Negotiations are under way and talks are understood to be scheduled for today.

Consigning Reyes to the substitutes had appeared a risk, especially as it meant including Tomas Rosicky, who Wenger had stated was not fit enough to start. Afterwards he defended his decision. "I feel that Tomas Rosicky was ready physically to play and that Reyes, with all the noises made about transfers, was unsettled," Wenger said. Is he confident that Reyes will stay? "Yes, I am," he added, somewhat unconvincingly.

The sideshow should not detract too much from the importance of the result, especially as Arsenal were not only lacking in numbers and experience but also preparation. "You take the average age of our team and it is amazing," Wenger said. "There was a lot at stake."

There was indeed. And, for long periods, it showed as, after a bright start by Arsenal, the home side gained momentum. Twice Luka Modric came close while Emmanuel Eboué had to be alerted to throw himself at the substitute Jasmin Agin, who was also wasteful with a header, as was Eduardo with a shot.

It was a profligacy that was to prove costly. Just after the hour and Arsenal exploded into life with two goals separated by less than 80 seconds. First Fabregas was brilliantly teed up by Van Persie to slam in an unerring right-foot shot. Then Alexander Hleb cleverly released the Dutch striker, who outstripped the defence to sweep a shot beyond the goalkeeper from 20 yards. It killed the tie but there was time for Fabregas to add some wonderful finishing touches. He collected the ball, rode two tackles and again found the net. Wenger may lose Reyes but he knows that there remains an unmistakable Spanish influence.

Dynamo Zagreb (4-3-2-1): Turina; Corluka, Nowotny, Cvitanovic, Cale (Vukojevic, 90); Buljat (Santos, 90), Mamic, Modric; Etto, Vugrinec (Agic, 27); Eduardo. Substitutes not used: Loncaric (gk), Costa, Drpic, Ljubojevic.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Hoyte; Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto, Rosicky (Flamini, 82); Van Persie, Adebayor (Aliadière, 82). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Reyes, Song, Cygan, Traoré.

Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).

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