Football: Now Bergkamp is really flying

Arsenal 5 Bergkamp 25, 32, Parlour 45, Platt 63, Wright 76 Barns ley 0 Attendance: 38,049
Click to follow
The Independent Online
This time at Highbury, it was all Greek to Barnsley. On the back of another sublime exhibition from Dennis Bergkamp, the Premiership leaders, Arsenal, condemned to the back of their minds the midweek Uefa Cup exit at the hands of PAOK Salonika and sad Barnsley to the bottom of the table.

Bergkamp roused Arsenal from a somnolent, almost hungover start in gorgeous autumn sunshine by bagging out of the blue a beautiful brace of goals, his 10th and 11th of the season in only his 11th game. He then set up Ray Parlour for a third before the break, after which the rout was completed by David Platt and a hitherto out of sorts Ian Wright, who has been labouring - the Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger revealed - with a slight ankle injury but one not serious enough to preclude him from England's match in Italy.

"Is there anything this man cannot do?" wondered the Tannoy announcer at the end of the match as the big screen repeated one of Bergkamp's goals. "Yes," said someone. "Fly." On the ground, by contrast, there does appear little he cannot accomplish.

Bergkamp's forte is in finding space and unusual angles of passing with a speed of thought that is beyond the majority of defenders. There is to his quick feet a lightness of touch that manipulates the ball with a deftness that delights team-mates and supporters alike. There is no one else at his level of ability, performance and influence at present playing in England and it is little wonder that the rewards recently have been unprecedented: the 1-2-3 in Match of the Day's goal of the month; winning the Premiership player of the month twice consecutively.

"Perhaps there is a better player in the world but I don't know of him," said Wenger. "It looks so easy to score when he does it. He scores goals not like a striker but a midfield player, because most goals come from outside the box. And he doesn't need three touches, just two or one." The generous Barnsley manager, Danny Wilson, added: "He never gets flustered, he has a nice arrogance and he is in a side where everyone complements each other."

Affiliation apart, aficionados of the game can only stand back and admire, which is certainly what Barnsley did when Bergkamp changed the momentum of the match. The opening quarter had seen Arsenal listless and they might even have fallen behind when, from Neil Thompson's free-kick on the left, Arjan De Zeeuw rose well to send in a powerful header that David Seaman did well to save.

Barnsley were quickly made to pay for their miss. Receiving the ball from Nigel Winterburn some 15 yards in from the left touchline, Bergkamp looked up and promptly proceeded to curl a superb shot into David Watson's top-left corner. It was that simple, though far from easy.

Seven minutes later Bergkamp struck again to make a nonsense of the earlier dross. This time Patrick Vieira slipped him in between De Zeeuw and Eric Tinkler with a neat through ball and the non-flying Dutchman ran on to tuck the ball neatly past Watson.

Now Barnsley were in disarray, their defensive discipline having deserted them. Marc Overmars might have added a third but shot straight at Watson; Ray Parlour should have. Sent clear by Steve Bould, he attempted to clip the ball over Watson but the goalkeeper turned it on to the post. Wright scooped the rebound over the bar.

On the stroke of half-time, Parlour made amends, courtesy of - who else? - Bergkamp. Wright's pass got a fortunate deflection off the hapless De Zeeuw into Bergkamp's path and his square ball gave Parlour a tap- in.

The points assured, Arsenal went through their party pieces in the second half. From a corner by Emmanuel Petit the newly introduced Platt headed home, and finally Wright got his ninth goal of the season.

Poor outclassed Barnsley, for whom Ashley Ward and Neil Redfearn wasted late chances of consolation. Having excitingly won promotion and spent a significant sum on players, they find themselves still some way adrift of the standard required and they may only be accorded one season in the sun. Game they may be, but once Bergkamp kicked in, it was game over. You'll believe a man can't fly.

Comments