Gunners make most of home advantages

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The Independent Football

To the Football Association's frustration, Arsÿne Wenger's CV looks even more impressive than before with the addition of a line confirming that he has led a team finishing top of their Champions' League group. It is a shame he will not be sending a copy of it to Lancaster Gate with a job application.

To the Football Association's frustration, Arsÿne Wenger's CV looks even more impressive than before with the addition of a line confirming that he has led a team finishing top of their Champions' League group. It is a shame he will not be sending a copy of it to Lancaster Gate with a job application.

What the FA might usefully absorb from Arsenal's success in European competition this season - four wins and a draw ensuring top place in Group B with a match to spare - is the benefit they have derived from playing home games at Highbury instead of Wembley.

The lesson for England is that, while Ken Bates and company look round for the extra hundreds of millions required to build the new national stadium, the team can profit in a footballing sense by utilising the atmosphere generated at leading club grounds.

In two previous years of Champions' League matches at Wembley, Arsenal won twice in six games; back amid the tighter confines of Highbury's terraced houses and smaller pitch, they have won all three this season, plus four out of four in last year's Uefa Cup. Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Sparta Prague, a colourful one in every sense, was the 16th in 17 home games since losing to Liverpool in February, the only blemish being an unlikely 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday.

"Our form, especially at home, has shown we are genuine contenders [for the Champions' League]," said Dennis Bergkamp. "It will be hard for teams to come here. The atmosphere is very intimidating. The best example of that was against Lazio, who were definitely intimidated by it."

It was understandable that there should be less passion in the air on Wednesday. Keen as they were to make sure of winning the group, which effectively means being seeded in the second phase, Arsenal made it all look easy by scoring twice in the opening seven minutes. They could still not afford the sloppiness that allowed Sparta no fewer than 26 attempts on goal, as Oleg Luzhny and Nelson Vivas, standing in for Tony Adams and Martin Keown, demonstrated that they are something less than the defensive dream team.

Wenger blamed the confused passing on a clash of colours with opponents and officials. Like Manchester United at their most venal, Arsenal put marketing considerations ahead of anything else by wearing a new dark-blue strip, only reverting to their normal change colours of yellow at the manager's insistence for the second half.

There were, nevertheless, first goals of the season for Nwankwo Kanu, Ray Parlour and Lee Dixon, and impressive performances by Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires. Thierry Henry was clearly unhappy about being pulled off amid such an abundance of scoring opportunities and Bergkamp, who has only one notch on his gun this season, would also like to have taken greater advantage of the wide-open football.

The Dutchman should become more settled, however, following confirmation that a new contract will soon be on the table. "I'm much happier than I was and I'm confident it will be cleared up within a couple of weeks," he said.

Bergkamp will be one of the lucky ones excused the trek to Donetsk, 250 miles east of Kiev, for the final group match, in which the manager can give further European experience to some of his younger players. They may not thank him for it at first - "It's not a place to go for tourism," he admitted - but should benefit in the long-term.

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