YOU HAVE to go back to the World Cup for the last time Dennis Bergkamp scored a goal. Too long, many would say, but his comfortable, if not outstanding, demolition of Ruud Gullit's Newcastle suggests his quality has not deserted him.
While this was far from a vintage performance from the Dutchman, two goals and an assist underlined the return to form his manager, Arsene Wenger, has been hoping for.
The lack of a summer break after France '98 and a premature return to the hurly-burly of Premiership football has been evident as Bergkamp drifted in and out of games.
While Wenger has never considered dropping his most talented player, he admitted that all at the club are relieved he is off the mark. It would not have been lost on Wenger that Bergkamp had scored nine goals by this time last season, and he said: "Psychologically for the team it was a relief. Dennis is a passionate guy but he does not show his feelings.
"But he looks physically sharp and his reactions are quicker and you can see that in training in the last week. You can never say as a striker that if you do not score goals you are happy and it must have been a relief for him as well. He is mature enough to know that he has a responsibility to the team."
Where strikers are concerned, timing is everything, and Newcastle's arrival at Highbury, with three defeats against the Gunners behind them last season was always going to give Bergkamp an opportunity to excel.
Newcastle offered little during the game to suggest Gullit can turn them into championship contenders without bringing in new players and he said moves have been made to make new signings.
"Today showed the difference between clubs like Arsenal and clubs like us," he said. "We have to improve on a lot of things and that was obvious. I knew what could happen. It is up to Newcastle to do something about it and bring in new players, who are ready to come in."
From the moment Tony Adams forced Shay Given into a fine save in the opening seconds, Arsenal controlled this one-sided affair. For all their neat triangles and their running, Newcastle could not cope with Arsenal's pace and fluency.
Arsenal were ahead 20 minutes into the game, Bergkamp skipping Stuart Pearce's challenge and slotting Nicolas Anelka's through-ball past Given into the far corner.
Bergkamp returned the favour nine minutes later when he beat the offside trap, drew the Newcastle keeper and squared for Anelka to knock the ball into an empty net.
Despite their poor disciplinary record so far this campaign Arsenal maintained their composure in the face of increasingly nasty fouling from the evidently frustrated opposition. There was nearly an hour gone by the time David Seaman was forced to make a save, flicking Nolberto Solano's deflected shot over the bar.
While Arsenal continued to coast in second gear they still looked like adding to their tally and did so midway through the second half. Marc Overmars ran on to Emmanuel Petit's low through-ball but before he could shoot Nikolaos Dabizas had pulled him down, the Greek leaving the field for his second bookable offence. Bergkamp made no mistake from the spot.
If the Arsenal players were relieved with Bergkamp's contribution, so were the fans, who cheered their captain Adams with chants of "There's only one England captain" after his effective shackling of Alan Shearer.
When Bergkamp was tripped in the box three minutes from time, his return to goalscoring seemed to be complete but Given spoiled it with a fine save from the Dutchman's penalty.
While Arsenal still have a long way to go to match last season's standards, their rivals should dismiss them at their peril.
Goals: Bergkamp (21) 1-0; Anelka (29) 2-0; Bergkamp pen (66) 3-0
Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Adams, Ljungberg (Mendez, 76), Anelka, Bergkamp, Overmars, Keown (Bould, 72), Petit (Hughes, 66). Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Garde.
Newcastle United: Given; Pearce, Batty, Shearer, Speed, Ketsbaia (Dalglish 45), Charvet, Glass (Albert 66), Solano, Dabizas, Griffin. Substitutes not used: Barton, Gillespie, Perez (gk).
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).
Sent off: Dabizas.
Booked: Newcastle: Batty, Dabizas, Speed, Pearce.
Man of the match: Bergkamp.
Attendance: 38,102.Reuse content