Football: Wenger's lofty ambitions

Arsenal 5 Leicester City 0
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The Independent Online
IF THE 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford was confirmation that Arsenal are in the running for a second successive league championship then this result, the manner of their performance and a quick look at who they had on the field by the end should be enough to send shudders down the spines of both their principal rivals, who return to the exhausting business of European competition next week.

It is hard to say whether Arsenal are playing any better than this time last year, but they now have reserve strength to rival both Manchester United and Chelsea. By the time the Leicester City players trooped off looking relieved to have kept it down to five, there was no Winterburn, Keown or Petit, who all missed the game, and no Vieira, Overmars or Anelka, all enjoying a well earned rest for the last 20 minutes or so.

Instead there were exciting new names like Kanu and Diawara to add to the existing fringe players such as Vivas, Grimandi, Garde and Hughes. Suddenly the extent of Arsene Wenger's ambition is apparent. The one blot on his managerial record at Highbury remains this season's Champions' League, but Wenger always played down Arsenal's aspirations in that direction, saying the Premiership was more important. Now he must feel he has the ammunition for a serious assault on Europe next season.

Saturday's exhibition was a dazzling one, the only crumb of comfort for others being the inadequacy of the opposition. It was orchestrated by Dennis Bergkamp, the architect of four of the goals and back on top form after struggling through the first half of the season. "Today was close to my very best of last season," he said. Wenger likened the Dutchman to a pianist constantly searching to improve his technique.

Ahead of him Nicolas Anelka, who scored his first hat-trick for the club, looked simply unstoppable. Wenger felt the recent England-France game at Wembley, when Anelka scored twice, was "a key moment of his life" and the way he finished his first two goals on Saturday, with stunning right- foot strikes across the keeper, certainly revealed a new level of confidence.

Elsewhere Overmars and Ray Parlour were constant menaces on the flanks, in midfield Vieira seemed determined to compensate for his friend Petit's absence single-handedly while Tony Adams looked so assured in defence he might have come out for the second half in dressing-gown and slippers with a mug of cocoa in one hand and a good book in the other.

"It was our best for a long time," Wenger said, before reflecting on the recent increases in Arsenal's playing staff. "We have more offensive potential, but competition for places can make everyone better and it can make them weaker also, so it's up to me to use it well." Leicester's Martin O'Neill can only dream of such problems as the gap in potential between clubs like his own and Arsenal grows wider by the week.

The Gunners will discover today whether their FA Cup fifth-round re-run goes ahead tomorrow or not, but on this form Sheffield United could be excused for changing their minds about the whole thing. "When you come off the pitch and hear the stadium reacting like that, you know it's coming back again," Bergkamp said. Is there better yet to come?

Goals: Anelka (23) 1-0; Anelka (27) 2-0; Parlour (42) 3-0; Anelka (44) 4-0; Parlour (48) 5-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Grimandi, Adams, Vivas; Parlour, Vieira (Hughes, 71), Garde, Overmars (Diawara, 67); Bergkamp, Anelka (Kanu, 67). Substitutes not used: Bould, Manninger (gk).

Leicester City (4-4-2): Keller; Kaamark (Walsh, h-t), Sinclair, Elliott, Ullathorne; Savage, Lennon, Zagorakis (Impey, h-t), Guppy; Izzet, Gunnlaugsson (Fenton, 84). Substitutes not used: Marshall, Arphexad (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset). Bookings: none.

Man of the match: Bergkamp.

Attendance: 38,069.

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