In Pictures: Arsenal 3 Celtic 1
Published 27/08/2009 | 00:15
Eduardo's controversial penalty helped Arsenal secure another shot at the £30million jackpot of the Champions League with a comfortable win over Celtic at Emirates Stadium.
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The cost of failure, both financial and in sporting terms, would have been immeasurable on the Gunners, who have consistently competed among the elite clubs of European football for more than a decade.
However, manager Arsene Wenger knows maintaining such a level will prove the biggest challenge ahead this season for his young Arsenal side, which tonight coped admirably without injured captain Cesc Fabregas and took the lead in the first half when Croatia striker Eduardo converted from the spot after he had gone down somewhat lightly under a sliding challenge by Celtic keeper Artur Boruc.
Emmanuel Eboue made sure there would be no comeback for Tony Mowbray's side with a neat finish after 53 minutes before substitute Andrey Arshavin slotted in a third to complete a 5-1 aggregate win.
Celtic midfielder Massimo Donati volleyed home a superb consolation goal in stoppage time.
For now, at least, the likes of Manchester City must sit and watch as Arsenal will take their place in the pot for tomorrow's group stage draw in the millionaire's playground of Monaco, with expectations once again set high the Gunners can go one better than the semi-final appearance last season.
Celtic, meanwhile, may be giants in Scottish football, but dropping into the Europa League will prove little consolation for the missed revenue and big-match experience.
Arsenal had the luxury of a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Glasgow, and so Wenger decided to start with Robin van Persie and Arshavin on the bench.
However, the front two of Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner still provided plenty of movement, combining to set up a chance for the Brazil-born Croat after nine minutes.
Eduardo was unable to stab the ball home at the far post after Boruc had palmed away Bendtner's close-range flick.
Celtic boss Tony Mowbray named an unchanged XI from the side which defeated St Johnstone 5-2 last time out, and knew his men would have to take the game to Arsenal if they were to stand any chance of progress.
The Bhoys looked to make the most of the counter-attack, but too often delivery was poor following good build-up.
The much-maligned Eboue had been pressed into a more advanced midfield role tonight, and almost opened the scoring with a shot on the turn from the edge of the Celtic area.
After 29 minutes, Arsenal were awarded a penalty when Eduardo went down following what looked minimal contact at best by Boruc after he skipped into the left side of the box.
It was, though, enough to convince Spanish referee Manuel Gonzalez, which was all that mattered - and Eduardo was certainly not worried by chants of "cheat" from the massed ranks of green behind the goal.
The Croatia striker, set to face England in next month's crucial World Cup qualifier at Wembley, stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way - and all but kill off the tie.
Celtic were clearly aggrieved, and for a spell lost composure.
It was not the Scots' lucky night, as Scott McDonald saw his far post tap-in ruled out by an offside flag with four minutes left of the first half.
In stoppage time, Boruc was at full stretch to push Eduardo's curling 20-yard effort around the post.
The Croatian - who on another night could easily have netted a hat-trick by now - was on the end of a quick break and some neat footwork found himself space on the edge of the area, only to scuff a shot wide.
After 53 minutes, Eboue showed Eduardo how it was done, drilling a low shot past Boruc following more neat build-up from a clever flick by Bendtner and Abou Diaby's centre.
Arshavin was introduced for the final 20 minutes, along with teenager Jack Wilshere, the latest off the production line at London Colney.
The Russian netted his first Champions League goal for Arsenal after a neat turn and finish after collecting Wilshere's pass after 74 minutes.
Donati salvaged some wounded pride in stoppage time with a stunning volley in off the post from Andreas Hinkel's right-wing cross.
Next up for Arsenal is the small matter of a trip to Manchester United. There Wenger's youngsters will face another stern test of character - which so far this season have all been answered.