Rampant Arsenal on the verge of last 16 spot

LONDON, Nov 4, 2009 (AFP) - Arsenal are on the verge of booking their place in the Champions League knockout stages after Cesc Fabregas scored twice to inspire a 4-1 win against AZ Alkmaar on Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger's side sit top of Group H with 10 points from four matches and can guarantee a spot in the last 16 if they avoid defeat at home to Standard Liege on November 24.

Arsenal's Russian midfielder Andrey Arshavin chases after the ball against AZ Alkmaar during the Champions League Group H football match at The Emirates Stadium in London on November 4, 2009. Arsenal won the game 4-1. AFP PHOTO

Gunners captain Fabregas opened the scoring at the Emirates Stadium when his shot trickled past Alkmaar goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Samir Nasri, just back in action after a broken leg, added to the feelgood factor when the France midfielder notched his first goal since March.

Another Fabregas strike soon after half-time was followed by an eye-catching Arsenal move finished by Abou Diaby before Jeremain Lens got one back for the Dutch champions.

After being written off as also-rans in pre-season, the north Londoners, now unbeaten in 12 matches, look in the mood to end their four-year trophy drought.

Wenger was full of praise for his side and singled out Russia playmaker Andrey Arshavin.

"It was a brilliant performance. We dominated technically, tactically and were never under threat. We played with confidence and overall I'm very happy," he said.

"Arshavin was outstanding. He gave the ball every time at the fraction of the second you wanted to give it. That is top, top quality.

"I believe this season we are getting stronger from game to game. It is important to keep that attitude to progress and improve."

Alkmaar boss Ronald Koeman added: "They have Eduardo and (Tomas) Rosicky on the bench. That says enough.

"The players up front are fast, technical and very strong. It is normal that they play better and have more chances than us."

The Gunners were on top from the opening minutes. Robin van Persie almost added to his tally of seven goals in his last seven games when he took Arshavin's pass on the right edge of the Alkmaar penalty area and shot just past the far post.

Romero needlessly gave away an indirect free-kick moments later by picking up the ball when a stray pass from Maarten Martens looped back into his area.

But from the set-piece, just six yards from goal, van Persie could only strike his low shot into the wall of Alkmaar defenders on the line.

Romero made a far more costly mistake in the 25th minute to hand Arsenal the opening goal.

Fabregas hit a low shot from the edge of the Alkmaar area but the Spain midfielder's effort was weakly struck and should have been easy for Romero.

Instead, the Argentine could only push it into the net despite getting a full hand to the ball. Even Fabregas seemed stunned by the ease of the goal and could barely bring himself to celebrate.

Koeman's side were struggling to make Arsenal's defence break sweat and Nasri delivered the knockout blow in the 43rd minute.

He took Arshavin's pass in his stride, completely fooled Hector Moreno with a neat check back inside and stroked his shot past Romero.

Alkmaar had stolen a 1-1 draw against the Gunners two weeks ago and Wenger's men were clearly in the mood for revenge.

They started the second half at a blistering pace and Fabregas capped a sweeping move to claim his second goal in the 52nd minute.

Arshavin was the provider with an astute pass and Fabregas supplied a sublime first-time finish to put the result beyond doubt.

Wenger knew the game was over and he took off Fabregas and van Persie, to standing ovations from the Emirates faithful, to save them for Saturday's trip to Wolverhampton.

But Arsenal kept the best until last. An imperious 72nd minute move saw Eduardo back-heel to Arshavin, who played a perfectly weighted ball to Diaby and the French midfielder easily side-footed past Romero.

Lens reduced the deficit when he beat Manuel Almunia at his near post in the 82nd minute but the damage had already been done.

Source: AFP

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