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Arsenal can lay down a marker

Arsenal
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By ESPN Staff

Larsson answers the call for Barca in Eto'o absence

MADRID, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Henrik Larsson shrugged off the pressure of covering for Samuel Eto'o at Barcelona, scoring the first goal in the Spanish champions' win over Alaves at the weekend.

Barca stretched their lead at the top of the table to 10 points after the 2-0 win over Alaves on Sunday, their first match since leading Primera Liga scorer Eto'o joined up with the Cameroon squad for the African Nations Cup.

'The game wasn't a test to see what I could do. The coach knows me and what my strengths are,' Swedish international Larsson told sports daily Mundo Deportivo.

Larsson benefited from an error when visiting keeper Franco Costanzo failed to hold a low cross from Ludovic Giuly after 47 minutes, leaving him a simple tap in. Argentine forward Leonardo Messi added the second goal late in the game.

'There was a touch of luck about my goal, but if you aren't in the right place at the right time you won't score,' Larsson added.

'It was vital to get the first goal as that forced them to open up a little which gave us more space.'

However, Barca coach Frank Rijkaard said his side had struggled to really impose themselves on the match.

He said: 'You can't win every game playing better football than your opponents.

'Alaves were very defensive with a wall of well organised defenders. But the players worked hard. The team had to be patient to earn the victory.'

Barcelona's win, their 18th in all competitions, moved them up to 49 points. Second-placed Valencia and third-placed Osasuna are tied on 39 points.

Real Madrid are three points further back in fourth after coming from behind to beat Cadiz 3-1 on Saturday.