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. After Emmanuel Petit's stunning 39th-minute goal was swiftly cancelled out by Rory Delap they secured victory through Dennis Bergkamp's second goal of the season two minutes into the second period.
Bergkamp's goal owed more to lax defending than his own genius but it was an appropriate reward for a player who has become as in tune with Arsenal's heartbeat as Tony Adams or Nigel Winterburn. As well as gilding their once prosaic play he has adopted their spirit, tackling and chasing like an artisan rather than an artist.
"He works very hard," said Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager. "His determination inspires everyone else, when you see a player like him working hard it sets an example.
"He is really fit physically, he has regained his confidence in his body and he is very hungry."
He is not alone. After their double disappointment last year Arsenal have returned to the fray with a renewed appetite. Crucially they also appear to have added discipline to their determination - Derby tried to draw them into a physical battle last night but, unusually, Arsenal resisted the temptation to trade bruises. They gave no quarter but, though Martin Keown and Thierry Henry were booked, they kept their tempers.
The one obvious area of weakness is their finishing. In the first half especially they created a string of chances but too often failed even to test Mart Poom in the Derby goal. "It is our usual problem," Wenger said.
Henry, whose finishing so far has been diabolical, was given his first start last night in place of the injured Marc Overmars.
Derby began more brightly but were quickly forced back by Arsenal's fluent passing and movement. After six minutes, a Bergkamp free-kick was only half-cleared and Patrick Vieira brought a decent save from Mart Poom with a 20-yard volley.
Though Delap headed over from a 16th-minute corner the balance of the first half-hour was more accurately reflected by a series of shots on Poom's goal but, while Bergkamp, Henry and Nwankwo Kanu did bring him into action, this represented only a fraction of their chances.
Yet the pressure was bound to tell and, after a frenetic passage of play in which Derby's tackling got increasingly fierce, Petit finally found his range with a spellbinding 28-yard shot which swerved past Poom.
Unexpectedly Derby levelled six minutes later, Keown's clearance from Mikkel Beck being rifled back past Alex Manninger from 25 yards by Delap. But, having gained undeserved parity, Derby threw it away within minutes of the restart as their defence stepped up too late to play Bergkamp offside from Petit's pass. The finish was typically immaculate.
Derby refused to concede defeat and, with Arsenal gradually retreating to preserve their lead, did create pressure but the Arsenal back four, with Matthew Upson fitting in well, held firm.
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).Reuse content