LONDON - Arsenal edged into the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday with a game to spare after an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev at the Emirates. Substitute Nicklas Bendtner struck three minutes from time to keep Arsenal top of Group G and eliminate Kiev who ended with 10 men after midfielder Olexandr Aliyev lost his cool in the final minutes and pushed referee Alain Hamer. Kiev, needing a win, should have taken advantage of an injury-hit Arsenal whose season has been coming off the rails in recent weeks with consecutive league defeats and the sacking of William Gallas as club captain. Until Bendtner's 87th-minute goal, the visitors had enjoyed the best chances of a disappointing game with Ismael Bangoura denied by the woodwork in the first half and Artem Milevskiy shooting straight at Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia late on. Victory lifted Arsenal to 11 points with one game to play at second-placed Porto on Dec. 10 when a draw will guarantee them top spot of the group. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger recalled Gallas, who was dropped at the weekend following comments he made about the team, and the Frenchman was at the centre of the night's key moments. After receiving a good reception from the home fans he almost became the villain after 38 minutes when he gifted the ball to Kiev dangerman Bangoura who curled a shot against the near post when a pass to a team mate would have been the better option. FIRST STEP Gallas had a goal disallowed on the stroke of halftime when he prodded past Kiev keeper Stanislav Bogush but was ruled offside. Early in the second half he prevented a certain goal for team mate Robin van Persie when he inadvertently blocked the Dutchman's shot in the six-yard area. "Gallas was great tonight, his focus was great," Wenger told reporters. "He wanted to do well but it was not an easy game. The crowd know he was a committed Arsenal captain. "This was the first step for us tonight, it was what the team needed, we needed reassurance." Van Persie was Arsenal's main goal threat, especially with his delivery from free kicks, one of which should have been converted by Mikael Silvestre in the first half. Arsenal had a let-off in the second half when Bangoura fired inches wide before Milevskiy squandered the best chance of the night, shooting too close to Almunia when clear on goal. With Arsenal's second consecutive 0-0 draw in the competition beckoning, new captain Cesc Fabregas produced a moment of inspiration, sending a lofted ball over the Kiev defence, and Bendtner raced clear to shoot past Bogush. The visitors appealed that Fabregas had been too hasty in contesting a drop ball before the crucial pass and as tempers boiled Aliyev was given his marching orders.
25 November 2008
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