Football: Bergkamp puts Arsenal in clear

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The Independent Online
A WEEK AGO Arsenal were still caught up in the Nicolas Anelka saga but it has only taken 180 minutes of football for their summer of discontent to mature into an autumn of promise. The season may still be embryonic but the Gunners already lead the nascent Premiership, five points ahead of their main rivals, Manchester United, and three ahead of Chelsea.

Although the margin of victory was narrow, and the closing moments tense, Arsenal fully deserved last night's second success in four days over East Midlands opposition. Though a stunning goal from Emmanuel Petit after 39 minutes was swiftly cancelled out by Rory Delap, Arsenal secured victory through Dennis Bergkamp's second goal of the season two minutes into the second period.

Arsenal gave Thierry Henry his first start in place of Marc Overmars and Matthew Upson a rare, and welcome, appearance for Gilles Grimandi, who was on the bench.

Derby, who replaced the injured Tony Dorigo and Dean Sturridge with Stefan Schnoor and Mikkel Beck, began more brightly, but were quickly forced back by Arsenal's fluent passing and movement. After six minutes Ray Parlour won a free-kick from Schnoor. Taken by Dennis Bergkamp it was only half- cleared and Patrick Vieira brought a decent save from Mart Poom with a 20-yard volley.

Though Rory Delap headed over from a 16th-minute corner the balance of the first half-hour was more accurately reflected by a brace of shots each from Henry, Bergkamp and Emmanuel Petit. However only two, from Bergkamp and Henry, brought Poom into action.

Derby's response was to increase their aggression but it only brought bookings for Darryl Powell and Horacio Carbonari to add to the five incurred at Elland Road on the opening day.

Arsenal, unusually, resisted the temptation to trade bruises, instead concentrating on their passing. They were almost rewarded by fate when a Seth Johnsen pass was inadvertently diverted by Steven Lodge, the referee, into Kanu's path. Only a fine, diving save from Poom saved Lodge embarrassment.

The pressure was bound to tell eventually and, after 39 minutes, Petit finally got his range right with a spellbinding 28-yard shot which dipped and curled its way past Poom. Given Arsenal's midfield dominance the match seemed settled, but Derby rallied to level before the break when Keown's clearance from Beck was rifled past Alex Manninger from 25 yards by Delap.

Having gained undeserved parity Derby threw it away within minutes of the restart. Their defence, perhaps fooled by Kanu's dummy, stepped up too late to play Bergkamp offside from Petit's pass. The Dutchman's finish was typically immaculate.

Derby, to their credit, refused to concede defeat, continuing to contest every loose ball and yard of space, Manninger tipping over the bar from a Carbonari free-kick just after the hour.

In an increasingly fractious match Schnoor was carried off after being hauled down by Kanu and Dixon received a forearm in the face from Prior.

Arsenal, however, generally kept their discipline and their tempers although Henry and Keown were both booked as Derby raised the pace at the end.

Derby County (3-5-2): Poom; Laursen, Carbonari (Harper, 78), Prior; Delap, Powell, Johnson, Baiano, Schnoor (Borbokis, 60); Eranio, Beck (Burton, 78). Substitutes not used: Hoult, Elliott.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Upson, Winterburn; Parlour (Silvinho, 22), Vieira, Petit, Henry (Boa Morte, 85); Kanu (Luzhny, 74), Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Luzhny, Boa Morte, Grimandi.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).