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Arsenal 3, Seville 0: Wenger's remodelled army slice through Seville armour

By Sam Wallace

Their reputation says that Seville are one of the best sides in Europe but last night they were just the latest club to feel the force of Arsène Wenger's remodelled Arsenal team. Juande Ramos may be the Tottenham manager-in-waiting but he has now got a taste of what has been a regular humiliation for other White Hart Lane incumbents: a beating from Arsenal.

They may not yet be a match for the great Premier League winning sides of Wenger's dynasty but this young Arsenal team look liberated in the absence of Thierry Henry. Cesc Fabregas' deflected first goal was a stroke of luck but there was nothing fortunate in a victory that was built upon a period of dominance after half-time in which Robin van Persie added his side's second goal.

There was, as the Arsenal fans pointed out bluntly last night, not a spare seat in the Emirates stadium to compare with the 20,000 who stayed away from Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. But then the opposition was Seville, winners of the Uefa Cup in the last two seasons, an arriviste force in European football with a blend of nationalities to rival those in the red shirts.

Ramos' team are new to the Champions League but they look like they are made for the competition: from Daniel Alves, the pugnacious Brazilian right-back sought after by Chelsea, to Frédéric Kanouté in attack.

Wenger's side were at their brittle best in the opening stages, so often one good pass short of a stunning move. In Seville they had an opposition who were equally adept with the ball at their feet and just as determined to out-pass their hosts.

The first goalbound effort belonged to Van Persie who ran at Seville's right side, doubled back and cut left before unleashing a shot that Andres Palop had to push over.

In midfield, Wenger stuck with his pairing of Mathieu Flamini and Fabregas from Saturday's win over Spurs and there was also no place for Gilberto Silva in central defence, where Philippe Senderos returned to the side.

It was Fabregas who struck Arsenal's first-half goal amid a passage of play where the home side could hardly be said to be dominating.

The Spanish midfielder picked up possession on 27 minutes after it was given away by the Seville centre-half Federico Fazio who had looked unsteady throughout the half. From 25 yards out Fabregas hit a shot at waist height that skidded off the crouching Julien Escudé's chest and wrong-footed Palop. The French defender got enough of a touch to re-direct the ball into the near corner.

It was not entirely deserved, although Arsenal had marginally the better of the first half. Emmanuel Adebayor forced his way past Fazio on the right touchline, cut in and hit a shot that was woefully wide. Kolo Touré got his head to a corner but could not direct it anywhere near goal. Kanouté had Seville's best chance, a shot that Manuel Almunia had to palm away after the French striker had run at a retreating Arsenal defence.

With 24 minutes of the second half still remaining, Ramos showed that he is not afraid of the kind of gamble which Jose Mourinho once made his trademark. With all that time to play, the Seville manager sent on his two remaining substitutes in an attempt to turn around the game but by then he was fairly desperate.

Arsenal scored a second goal one minute before the hour, a goal that hinted at problems in the middle of the Seville defence once again.

Fabregas struck a free-kick from the left which took the faintest of touches off full-back Bacary Sagna and eluded the entire Seville defence before Van Persie toed the ball in at the back post.

From then on, the confidence in Wenger's young side was evident. Only when Senderos misjudged horribly a cross from the right from Alves did Seville look like they might score. Coming onto the ball, however, the midfielder Jose Marti was unable to make any meaningful connection.

Arsenal's third goal was a glorious piece of improvisation that began when Aleksandr Hleb was gifted possession by Fazio. He doubled back and found Fabregas running down the right who in turn hit the ball back across the goal first time. The substitute Eduardo da Silva poked home the ball from close range to cap an impressive performance.

Belfast Telegraph


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