After scoring twice in the opening 17 minutes, during which Dennis Bergkamp and Nwankwo Kanu were at their irresistible best, Arsene Wenger's side failed to translate their superiority into goals. One more would have taken Arsenal into second place behind United again. Instead, they were frustrated by a combination of their own feeble finishing and the defiant goalkeeping of Gary Walsh.
Bradford had not passed through the marble halls on League business since the final day of the 1921-22 season. On that occasion they lost 1-0, a result which confirmed their relegation. This time, Arsenal asserted their dominance so early that there could be no question of sitting on the score-line with which they have become synonymous.
Wenger, whose starting line-up contained just two Englishmen and none of the fabled back four, had reminded his players of their response after they last lost at home. Following that defeat, by Blackburn in December, 1997, they went 29 Highbury games without losing, and the way they tore into Bradford suggested a desire to start a similar sequence .
Kanu, the towering Nigerian with the size 13 feet, was indirectly involved in the first goal and helped himself to the second. After seven minutes, his deft pass to Ray Parlour led to a vicious shot which Walsh did well to push behind. Walsh's respite was short-lived; from the corner, Patrick Vieira rose to head home.
Ten minutes later, after Peter Beagrie had swept past Silvinho on Bradford's left flank, Dean Windass unwisely delayed his shot. Arsenal punished his wastefulness by doubling their advantage.
Bergkamp released Parlour to run at Walsh, whereupon Wayne Jacobs barged the midfielder to the turf. Kanu netted nonchalantly from the spot, but spurned a chance to put the outcome beyond doubt as early as the 32nd minute when he headed over from Parlour's centre.
Therein lay Arsenal's problem. Thierry Henry increasingly shared in some intricate build-ups. Frustratingly for Arsenal, his finishing was less assured, and Walsh was twice able to thwart him before half-time.
At the start of the second half Bradford's manager, Paul Jewell, sent on Stewart McCall to give them a more organised look, and he soon initiated the move which led to Windass forcing Manninger into his first save. Walsh, however, remained far busier than the Austrian, using his legs to deny Bergkamp and Fredrik Ljunberg, efforts which typified Arsenal's lack of ruthlessness.
Even the introduction of Marc Overmars and Davor Suker could not trick them into scoring again. Overmars, sent clear by the Croatian's pass, scuffed wide and rounded off proceedings by clipping the bar.
Wenger expects to welcome back Tony Adams at Liverpool on Saturday, but may be without Kanu, who suffered a thigh injury. Jewell, meanwhile, admitted he feared "a cricket score" at one stage, and was disappointed to lose to two set pieces, but must have taken heart from the form of McCall and Walsh for what will surely be a long, hard winter.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Vivas, Keown, Grimandi, Silvinho; Parlour, Vieira, Ljungberg, Henry (Overmars, 61); Bergkamp (Suker, 67), Kanu (Upson, 77). Substitutes not used: Dixon, Lukic (gk).
Bradford City (4-4-2): Walsh; Lawrence (Blake, 63), Wetherall, Dreyer, Jacobs; Halle (McCall, h-t), O'Brien, Whalley, Beagrie; Windass, Saunders. Substitutes not used: Myers, Moore, Clarke (gk).
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood).