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Van Persie sinks Steaua

sports Updated: Oct 03, 2007 23:25 IST

AFP
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Robin van Persie extended Arsenal's winning run to nine matches as the Dutch striker's late goal clinched a 1-0 victory at Romanian side Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Arsene Wenger's side are in a rich vein of form and were able to grind out their second Group H success despite struggling to produce the flowing football that has taken them to the top of the Premier League.

While Wenger has spoken of his belief that his young team's eye-catching football can be a life-enriching experience, here was ample evidence that the Gunners can win ugly when they need to.

Steaua gave Arsenal plenty of problems but the visitors were prepared to dig in and got their reward when van Persie struck his second winner in four days with 14 minutes to play.

Van Persie's header had stolen the points at West Ham on Saturday and he showed why Arsenal have no reason to mourn Thierry Henry's departure with another clinical finish.

Wenger took as much satisfaction from his side's desire as he did from the result.

"Steaua defended very well and we couldn't find the openings, so we had to show patience," he said. "The turning point was maybe when they were clean through and missed because I thought we were in control from then.

"But it's not just that we are winning the games, it also says a lot about the resolve of the team. The focus they had today shows there is something special in the team."

Wenger's main concern ahead of the trip to Romania was that his players would be lulled into a false sense of security by the low-key nature of the tie.

Arsenal have often gone missing in action when they travel to Eastern Europe, with Wenger admitting his team sometimes find it hard to get motivated for these less glamorous assignments.

That fear looked well founded as the Gunners were nearly caught out twice in quick succession.

When Romeo Surdu whipped in a cross from the left, Valentin Badea should have done better than nod tamely over from bar. Then, in the seventh minute, Surdu had the ball in Manuel Almunia's net, only to see his header ruled out for offside.

Arsenal went straight down the other end and should have taken the lead when Alexander Hleb, fit to play despite being stretchered off at West Ham, picked out a perfect pass to give Cesc Fabregas a glorious opportunity.

The Spanish midfielder has been lethal in front of goal this season but he blazed over from close range.

Steaua owner Gigi Becali had warned Massimo Pedrazzin, who only replaced Gheorghe Hagi last month, that he faced the sack if his side failed to win.

Whether the Romanians were playing for their coach or Becali's offer of a 20,000 pounds-a-man win bonus, they were certainly motivated and gave Arsenal another fright when Nicolae Dica's long-range effort flashed wide.

Steaua, who had never lost at home to English opposition, nearly fell behind when Steaua goalkeeper Robinson Zapata was close to carrying Gael Clichy's deflected cross over his own goal-line.

Zapata made a more convincing save just before half-time when he parried Mathieu Flamini's strike.

For all Arsenal's purist principles, Wenger believes his team now have the ability to scrap when they aren't allowed to play.

This was exactly that kind of evening. Steaua lacked Arsenal's class in possession, but made up for it in sheer bloody-mindedness.

They kept pressing and it took an alert clearance from Kolo Toure to deny Dica after his lob looped over Almunia.

Steaua's determination not to take the game to the Gunners was paying dividends and they should have taken the lead in the 71st minute.

Victoras Iacob beat Arsenal's hesitent offside trap and bore down on Almunia, only to drag his shot woefully wide.

That miss proved decisive. Wenger's side finally pieced together an incisive attack in the 76th minute and made it count in ruthless style.

Adebayor's cross from left side of the penalty area cut out four Steaua defenders and reached van Persie, who drove a perfect shot high past Zapata.

That was enough to break Steaua's resolve. Arsenal were already masters of the beautiful game, so heaven help the rest of Europe now they've discovered how to win the hard way as well.