Football: Henry's first fires Arsenal

Southampton 0 Arsenal 1 Henry 79 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 15,242
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A WEARY, post-European performance in which their manager Arsene Wenger rightly admitted Arsenal gave the impression of "wanting to win without it hurting us too much", could easily have cost them a third defeat of the season.

As it was, a moment of illuminating intervention by their substitute Thierry Henry not only brought him his first goal for the club and cruelly emphasised to Southampton what it means to have a squad full of internationals, but allowed Arsenal to close the gap on Manchester United.

The comparison between Arsenal's week and that of Southampton could hardly have been greater. Southampton had been playing Manchester City in the Worthington Cup and listening to news about their proposed new home while Arsenal were metaphorically and geographically miles away in Italy trying in vain to score in the Champions' League.

The news that Southampton had at last come to an arrangement to sell The Dell, their cramped but usefully intimidating arena since 1898, was greeted by their fans with a mixture of relief and caution.

Moving to a pounds 30m new stadium is all very well for the Range Rover classes but perhaps less so for those nostalgic sceptics who have been prepared to put up with the discomfort of The Dell for the sake of retaining the advantage that the ground's atmosphere has brought. After all, it was the nine home wins last season that did more than anything to retain their Premiership status.

Not that Arsenal's trips to The Dell in recent seasons had suggested much concern. In their previous four visits they had conceded only one goal, and seeing Southampton concentrate largely on packing midfield yesterday, they had no serious cause to foresee any change in the sequence. With Patrick Vieira quickly taking on that outnumbering with the subtlety of his footwork, Arsenal soon gave the impression that they could reap control whenever they wanted.

It was a false impression since Southampton's defence held up well against both Vieira's imagination and Dennis Bergkamp's finishing. That served them well, allowing a revival that saw Matthew Oakley make a positive, determined push forward in support of James Beattie and Mark Hughes. So, deservedly, after 27 minutes they gave Arsenal a terrible fright when a corner from Wayne Bridge dropped to Dean Richards whose shot thundered into Alex Manninger. The ball rebounded to Beattie and his shot hit the post.

Oakley maintained his influence, intercepting anything loose in the midfield, holding the ball well and distributing it purposefully. As a result Martin Keown and Tony Adams looked less comfortable than they had against the Italians in midweek. Indeed, Southampton had four threatening shots in the first half and half a dozen less noticeable but still troublesome attempts. The best came from Oakley who again had Manninger making an instinctive save to concede a corner.

Defensively, no one served Southampton better than Richards who, in the third minute after half-time, cleverly cut across in front of the escaping Bergkamp, who had begun to get better service from midfield following the arrival of Ray Parlour.

Southampton's excellent subduing of Marc Overmars on the Arsenal left was a considerable factor in their impressive, gutsy display. Yet when, on the hour, Overmars did escape down that edge and slipped the ball ahead to Bergkamp, Arsenal expected better than a shot that curled beyond the far post. By and large, Overmars was as disappointing as the rest of the Arsenal midfield, which said a lot for Southampton's perseverance in that area. Gilles Grimandi, for example, was anonymous.

Inevitably, Arsenal gathered themselves for something late and meaningful. Thirteen minutes from the end Nigel Winterburn cleared direct to substitute Henry, who had replaced Kanu. Henry had his back to goal some 20 yards out, turned as soon as he had the ball under control and bent a glorious shot beyond Paul Jones for his first goal since joining the club from Juventus.