Football: Kanu exorcises ghost of Florence

Arsenal 1 Watford 0
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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH IT would go down as conduct unbecoming an Arsenal manager, there must be times when the otherwise undemonstrative Arsene Wenger is tempted to dance out of his seat in the Highbury dug-out and lead the North Stand's chorus of their latest ditty: "Who needs An-el-ka, when we've got Ka-nu?"

Last Wednesday at Wembley was one such occasion, as the Nigerian, lying almost on his back, set up Thierry Henry for an invaluable goal in stoppage time that suddenly made qualification in the Champions' League a more viable prospect. Saturday afternoon was another one, Kanu breaking down an even more stubborn defence right at the death, this time with a deft turn onto Oleg Luzhny's long throw and an improbably quick shimmy of those huge feet.

In four days, the ghastly penalty miss against Fiorentina has been exorcised, leaving Arsenal two points behind Barcelona and two behind Manchester United at the top of the respective league tables. "He's a guy you love to have in the team, because he loves to fight to win," said Wenger.

It was hard, in a way, on Watford, who in situations like this love to fight to draw. Time after time, Kanu or his partner Thierry Henry - not quite justifying Wenger's faith in him as a central striker yet - and later the substitutes Dennis Bergkamp and Davor Suker, would wriggle through two challenges only for a Watford defender to throw himself in the way of a final pass or shot. Kanu hit the same post twice within a minute, threatening the first time to snap it clean in two; Alec Chamberlain beat out shot after shot as Arsenal's total of scoring attempts reached 23.

At the other end of the pitch it was difficult to recall anything other than two occasions on which Allan Smart had a glimmer of goal, only for Alex Manninger, desperate to retain his place now that David Seaman is fit, to clatter him unmercifully.

In a run of fixtures that might have been scheduled by the Marquis de Sade, Watford have been outplayed more than once, but - with Leeds and Manchester United to come next - not (yet) routed. Their last seven Premiership matches have all ended 1-0, one way or the other, which reflects determined defending as well as inadequate attacking.

On Saturday Graham Taylor had summed up the task facing them with characteristic good humour, as Arsenal prepared to bring Bergkamp and Suker into the fray, rather than keeping them fresh for Barcelona on Wednesday. "You used to bring on good players here," he shouted along the touchline.

Who needs Anelka when we've got Kanu? And Bergkamp and Suker and Henry and...

Goal: 1-0 Kanu (86).

Arsenal (4-4-2):Manninger; Luzhny, Keown, Adams, Silvinho; Ljungberg (Suker, 69), Parlour, Vieira, Overmars; Henry (Bergkamp, 73), Kanu (Vivas, 89). Substitutes not used: Winterburn, Lukic (gk).

Watford (4-4-2):Chamberlain; Gibbs, Williams, Page, Robinson; Wooter (Wright, 84), Hyde, Palmer, Kennedy; Foley (Easton, 89), Smart (Ngonge, 55). Substitutes not used: Bonnot, Day (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Watford: Kennedy, Page, Robinson, Williams.

Man of the match: Kanu.

Attendance: 38,127.