Football: Highbury rewarded as Henry rises to occasion

Arsenal 2 Derby County 1
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The Independent Online
ARSENAL FANS arrived at Highbury yesterday tea-time fed, watered and rested, and fully expecting the ritual sacrifice of lowly Derby County. With eight goals scored in their last two home matches, the occupants of Highbury had every right to expect their opponents to offer resistance as feeble as Nantes in the Uefa Cup and Middlesbrough in the Premiership.

A case of Rams to the slaughter, then? Well, not quite, as one can surmise from the scoreline, but Derby's defeat was emphatic in its tenor, if not on paper, and leaves them third from bottom of the Premiership while Arsenal move back up to third from top.

Emmanuel Petit had been considered an unlikely starter after straining his fragile knee ligaments on Thursday, but his presence, coupled with that of a dynamic Marc Overmars, supplied Arsenal with fluency and verve. However, not before Derby had made their own unsettling contribution.

The Israeli international Avi Nimni was welcomed in his first full game for Derby by colliding with Tony Adams. Happily for Derby, the ball ran to Deon Burton, who fed the ball to fellow striker Dean Sturridge. An efficient finish beat Alex Manninger, deputising for the injured David Seaman, after only two minutes had elapsed.

The Highbury crowd did not seem too perturbed. Surely, this was a consolation goal, one could almost sense them reason.

This view received some support soon after. Petit had demonstrated his fitness with a foul on Nimni after 10 seconds. As if to emphasise that his game can be creative as well as disruptive, he swung a free-kick a foot or so too high as Arsenal began to come into the game.

Thierry Henry, the 21-year-old French international, was put through by Marc Overmars, who had left Rory Delap in a state of confusion inside his own half. A slide-rule ball through to Henry found the striker in full stride through the middle. A beautiful right-footed finish beat Mart Poom with ease and style. It was like watching Nicolas Anelka but with a smile on his face.

Henry, in a central striking position, put in a performance which pleased Arsene Wenger. "His runs and moves were quite encouraging as it has shown that he can be a central striker," the Arsenal manager said. "In fairness, he could have scored four or five today. He lost his confidence at one stage and he had a period when he was a little bit down. Now he has to repeat that kind of performance and be consistent."

Within the first five minutes of the second half, Overmars picked up the ball on the left, jinked upfield and laid a beautifully oblique ball into the path of Henry. In double-quick time, it was 2-1 to the Arsenal as he expertly tucked the ball across Poom and inside his far post.

On the hour, Derby manager Jim Smith brought on Georgi Kinkladze, the Georgian international and former Manchester City midfielder he signed on loan from Ajax. His sporadic wizardry served to cheer up the frozen Derby supporters, but his advanced midfield role was unproductive.

Nwankwo Kanu followed as a substitute for the disappointing Bergkamp soon after, but he seemed cursed by his predecessor's indifferent form. Stefan Malz, a 19-year-old signed from 1860 Munich, appeared to be more effective when he replaced Overmars. A gloriously straight shot from a lay-back by Suker deserved to emphasise Arsenal's superiority, but his shot bounced down and off the line.

Goals: Sturridge (2) 0-1; Henry (11) 1-1; Henry (51) 2-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Winterburn, Adams, Upson, Luzhny; Overmars (Malz, 72), Parlour, Petit, Grimandi; Bergkamp (Kanu, 63), Henry (Suker, 72). Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Vernazza.

Derby County (5-3-2): Poom; Delap, Laursen, Prior, Carbonari (Elliott, 45), Dorigo; Johnson, Powell, Nimni (Kinkladze, 60); Burton (Robinson, 72), Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Elliott, Murray.

Bookings: Derby: Johnson, Dorigo, Delap. Arsenal: Grimandi, Suker, Bergkamp.

Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay).

Man of the match: Overmars.

Attendance: 37,964.