Arsenal in lucrative group stage

PARIS: Arsenal swept into the Champions League group stages after completing a 5-1 play-off romp over Celtic at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

The Gunners join last year’s finalists Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the competition from the English Premier League where big spenders Real Madrid, as well as Juventus and Inter Milan will all be potential opposition along with Rangers, 2004 champions Porto and Lyon.

Two goals after the opening game in Glasgow, the Gunners all but sewed up their passage to the lucrative mini-league with a penalty from Croatian Eduardo in 27th minute. Speeding into the penalty box, the forward went over the outstretched arms of Celtic keeper Artur Goruc far too easily for travelling fans of the Scottish side. Eduardo rolled the ball home to make it 1-0.

Further goals from Emmanuel Eboue and Andrei Arshavin increased the margin but Massimo Donati at least had the crumb of satisfaction of scoring the goal, a sublime volley right at the death.

Also into the hat for group stage draw are Italy’s Fiorentina, who just pipped Sporting Lisbon on away goals following a 1-1 draw in Florence which came on the back of a 2-2 draw in the Portuguese capital. Yannick Djalo should have given the visitors the lead early on but with only goalkeeper Sebastien Frey to beat he scuffed his shot wide before they cemented their early pressure with a freekick on 35 minutes netted by Joao Moutinho. Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli made a switch at the break replacing Massimo Gobbi with attacking Montenegro midfielder Stevan Jovetic and it was he who levelled to send the Italians through.

Also into the group stage are Cyprus minnows APOEL Nicosia, who beat FC Copenhagen 3-1 to seal an aggregate 3-2 victory. Cypriot international Chrysis Michael played a captain’s role by bagging a brace with Polish midfielder Kamil Kosowski also on target. Dame N’Doye netted the Danes’ lone reply as APOEL emulated Anorthosis Famagusta, who became the first Cyprus side to reach the Champions League groups last season.

Also through are Greek side Olympiakos, who completed a 3-0 aggretate win over Moldova’s Sheriff, and Germans VfB Stuttgart, who went through by dint of a 2-0 away first leg win at Romania’s Politehnica Timisoara after the second match ended goalless.