Former Gunner's goal is not enough for Manchester City as Wiltord and Henry hit the target for champions
Anelka strikes a reminder but Arsenal go top
Arsenal 2 Manchester City 1
Wednesday 11 September 2002
Nicolas Anelka reminded Highbury of his quality last night but saw at close hand the reason why he is not missed. Arsenal fans, said Anelka before this match, should be grateful to him because they bought their latest Double-winning side on the proceeds of his £23m sale.
They are not but that did not stop them enjoying the goals by Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord, who cost £21m between them, which outnumbered Anelka's own strike and put Arsenal back on top of the Premiership. City, who played a full part in an enthralling match were left only with a sour taste after the late dismissal of Ali Benarbia.
City went into the fixture with a record of one victory in their last 21 visits to Highbury. On their last Premiership sojourn they lost 5-0 here and 9-0 on seasonal aggregate. Such precedents would persuade most managers to send out a negative team but not Kevin Keegan. He fielded an even more attacking line-up than the one which lost 3-0 at Leeds United on the opening day, Darren Huckerby keeping his place ahead of Kevin Horlock.
However, it took Arsenal just 135 seconds to create their first chance, Henry sending a chip over the bar. City responded in kind, a run by Niclas Jensen and a piercing pass by Eyal Berkovic both causing Arsenal problems. The latter led to Anelka forcing a corner from which Benarbia worried David Seaman with a curling cross-shot which bounced off the bar. A goal would have embarrassed Seaman given it was his first outing since conceding a 43-yard goal to Gianfranco Zola and being subsequently omitted from the England squad.
The passing of Berkovic and Benarbia gave City a pleasing look but any masterclass in the subject would have Dennis Bergkamp as chief demonstrator and the Dutchman soon released both Wiltord and Henry only for the Frenchmen to fail their part of the practical.
They were warning shots though. City had had plenty of possession and their interplay was a joy but Arsenal's counter-attacking made them dangerous. And after 26 minutes, Ashley Cole won possession in his own half, the ball was switched via Patrick Vieira to Bergkamp who spotted Wiltord breaking behind Jensen on the opposite flank. The inevitable goal, Wiltord's fifth of the season, made this the 44th match in which Arsenal have scored, matching the top-flight record set by City's 1936 ancestors.
Highbury sat back but City bucked the script. Two minutes later Benarbia dropped his cross between Martin Keown and Oleg Luzhny – who else? – for Anelka to head in. It was his fourth goal in two games and how he loved it.
Arsenal, though, were now in the groove. Wiltord headed wide from Luzhny's cross and Henry drew a great save from Schmeichel. The pressure told on 33 minutes as Sol Campbell released Wiltord down the left. As he shaped to cross Henry broke free. Sylvain Distin did not take the risk and hauled Henry back. Unnecessarily as the cross was blocked. This at least saved him a red card. Like Benarbia earlier and Vieira later he saw yellow. Henry would not be denied. Two minutes from the break Wiltord and Cole linked on the left and Henry wrong-footed Schmeichel to score.
City refused to crumble. Their classily ebullient defiance summed up by a spat between Berkovic and Vieira, a casual one-two Distin played at the back with Jensen, and a magical dribble between Cole and Edu by Anelka who then brought a fine save from Seaman. But Arsenal would have called a stunning halt to it all with 22 minutes left but for an errant linesman's flag which called Henry offside as he ran onto Bergkamp's glorious flick.
City were thus able to worry Arsenal to the end but, after Benarbia was dismissed having received a second yellow card their challenge was over.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman 5; Luzhny 4, Keown 5, Campbell 6, Cole 6; Wiltord 7, Vieira 7, Gilberto Silva 4, Edu 5 (Touré 5, 70); Bergkamp 7, Henry 8. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Jeffers, Cygan, Kanu.
Manchester City (3-5-2): Schmeichel 6; Sun Jihai 5, Howey 5 (Horlock, 78), Distin 4; Wright-Phillips 6, Berkovic 6, Foé 6, Benarbia 7, Jensen 5; Anelka 7, Huckerby 5 (Goater 5, 58). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Tiatto, Dunne.
Referee: C Wilkes 7 (Gloucester).
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