Young Cole saves face for Gunners

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The Independent Online

Arsenal should have buried Bradford as Manchester United had, but they were right not to underestimate the Yorkshire side's willingness to scrap. The chief pretenders to United's Premiership crown made only one chance count among perhaps a dozen as Bradford, fortified by an early lead, preferred to dwell not on Old Trafford nightmares but on what they had achieved against Chelsea here last month. Let's dent another lofty reputation, they said.

Arsenal should have buried Bradford as Manchester United had, but they were right not to underestimate the Yorkshire side's willingness to scrap. The chief pretenders to United's Premiership crown made only one chance count among perhaps a dozen as Bradford, fortified by an early lead, preferred to dwell not on Old Trafford nightmares but on what they had achieved against Chelsea here last month. Let's dent another lofty reputation, they said.

At least Arsenal knew what to expect, after falling to defeat here in one of last season's defining moments. For all that they were prepared, however, they still buckled under the home side's early assault, their weakened defence exposed after only 10 minutes.

Culpability could be traced to Oleg Luzhny, an unconvincing stand-in for the injured Tony Adams, whose failure to deal with a long ball to Ashley Ward led indirectly to the goal. Ward was allowed to shoot, David Seaman saved, but at the cost of a corner.

Peter Beagrie took the kick, headed back to him by Martin Keown. Beagrie crossed again, Keown cleared again - but this time only to Stuart McCall, whose crisp drive from 18 yards squeezed inside Seaman's left-hand post.

As a reward for Bradford's early endeavour, the goal was wholly justified. However, it produced a misleading account of a first half dominated by Arsenal. Five times they might have scored and should have at least once, probably through Thierry Henry.

The Frenchman is in suchirrepressible form that Arsÿne Wenger dare not leave him out even with Europe looming, especially with Dennis Bergkamp injured, along with Silvinho. Kanu instead kept the bench warm, latterly replacing Sylvain Wiltord, who had been making his first start.

Henry was unlucky not to score inside two minutes, hitting the foot of a post with goalkeeper Matt Clarke beaten. Clarke denied him with a fine reaction save after 35 minutes. In between, Henry had hooked another attempt over the crossbar, although not by much, and Wiltord had forced another save from Clarke, while Robert Pires, teed up by Henry, took his eye off the ball at just the wrong moment.

Bradford, showing four changes to Tuesday's battered line-up, still looked vulnerable, although Benito Carbone almost dealt Arsenal a second blow before half-time, trying to beat Seaman with an audacious curler from the left and failing only narrowly.

But their attacking was sporadic at best, mopped up usually by the commanding Keown, while the Arsenal midfield was in complete charge even without Patrick Vieira. Chances continued to flow, to Henry, twice, Ray Parlour, Luzhny, Fredrik Ljungberg and Pires.

Bradford watched the clock, defending their lead with increasing ferocity, but Arsenal were determined equally not to leave empty-handed. Inevitably, the equaliser came, although it was from an unexpected source, young Ashley Cole, the 20-year-old replacement for Silvinho at left-back, popping up in support of Henry with 24 minutes left and slotting home Henry's cross with impressive composure.

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