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Arsenal's all too familiar failings in Europe were highlighted again on Wednesday night as the Premiership champions twice let slip a lead against Panathaniakos in Athens.
Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was the main culprit for both goals as the Greek side battled back to secure a 2-2 draw. Freddie Ljungberg had put Arsenal ahead from a pinpoint José Reyes pass in the 19th minute only for Lehmann to come out rashly for a ball and watch helpless as Ezequiel Gonazalez lobbed him from 35 yards on 65 minutes. Nine minutes later, Thierry Henry slid in to set the seal on a lightning break from Arsenal only for Emmanuel Olisadebe to head level from a poorly defended corner just eight minutes later.
At Stamford Bridge it was a different story as heroics from keeper Peter Cech gave Chelsea the platform to beat CSFK Moscow 2-0 and put one foot in the last 16 of the competition.
Coach José Mourinho suffered his first Premiership loss on Saturday but this third straight Champions League win was a quick return to form, taking Chelsea five points clear of CSFK in Group H and six clear of Paris St Germain, who beat Porto 2-0 last night. But it was far from straightforward for Chelsea as CSFK dominated for long spells. In between, John Terry headed Chelsea ahead on nine minutes and Eidur Gudjonsen allowed the west Londoners to relax with a second on the stroke of half time.
In Ukraine, Celtic's hopes of progression were all but ended by a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Shaktar Donetsk, who were winning their first Champions League game.
* On a positive note for Arsenal, coach Arsène Wenger is ready to sign a three-year extension to his contract within the next week and will be offered a place on the board when his reign ends. A new deal would take Wenger, who joined Arsenal in 1996, through to 2008 and he said: "It should be done by the end of this week or the beginning of next." Gunners' chairman Peter Hill-Wood said: "When he stops being manager, I'm sure we'll want him in another role."
* Jenson Button must drive for his current team, BAR-Honda, next year and not join BMW Williams, Formula One's contracts recognition board ruled on Wednesday. The decision - against which there is no appeal - appeared to bring to a close a controversy that erupted in August, after Williams said it had contracted Button to drive for the team in 2005. BAR, which has comfortably outperformed Williams this year, has claimed throughout that only its own contract with Button is legally binding.
On Wednesday night Sir Frank Williams said his team would not seek to challenge the board's ruling but left the door open for Button to join Williams in 2006.
While the controversy has inflicted some damage on Button's relationship with BAR, David Richards, the team principal, is expected to confirm that the driver will partner team-mate Takuma Sato next year. While Button, 24, has Williams to thank for giving him his first drive in F1, it is the technical progress made by BAR this year that is allowing him to take a clear third place in the championship behind Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Button's continuation with BAR will mean that Williams is likely to award the spare seat to Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, who will partner Australia's Mark Webber.
The contract decision came as talks continued over whether there would be a British grand prix at Silverstone next year. While promoter Bernie Ecclestone this week declared the race to be off the calendar, insiders close to the situation suggested a deal would be reached before next year's calendar was made final in December.
* England rugby coach Andy Robinson set the tone for his reign yesterday with a shake-up of training methods aimed at revitalising a side that has grown stale since winning the World Cup last year.
In his first press conference since officially taking over from Sir Clive Woodward, Robinson acknowledged England had regressed tactically since last year. "We were very narrow in our approach to winning the World Cup," he said. "We remained narrow afterwards. I want to bring back width to our game and the off-loads."
Robinson, who names a squad of 40 next week for the November internationals against Canada, South Africa and Australia, said he wanted the England squad to train with rugby league teams. "Rugby league is a great game," he said. "It's very different from union but it's a great game. There are a number of things we can learn."
The coach's preparations have been undermined by injuries to the likes of flanker Richard Hill and hooker Steve Thompson, but he is optimistic new captain Jonny Wilkinson is responding well to his treatment, and confident that new players will capably fill any holes. "This is the next era for England, and we are looking for young players to come through. There are a number of positions up for grabs and it is an opportunity for players to say they want to play for England."
* The Russian Olympic Committee has filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland seeking to strip US cyclist Tyler Hamilton of his Olympic time-trial gold medal and give it to silver medallist Vyacheslav Ekimov because of a doping controversy. "The ROC insists on the disqualification of Hamilton," the committee, who filed the appeal last Thursday, said.
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