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The Independent Football

Arsenal played an impressive game of follow-the-leaders yesterday, matching Manchester United's five goals by tearing apart the champions' City neighbours with five of their own in a glorious display, albeit for half the game against 10 men, which had the home supporters bellowing a mocking chorus of "Boring, boring Arsenal".

Arsenal played an impressive game of follow-the-leaders yesterday, matching Manchester United's five goals by tearing apart the champions' City neighbours with five of their own in a glorious display, albeit for half the game against 10 men, which had the home supporters bellowing a mocking chorus of "Boring, boring Arsenal".

Thierry Henry, the tormenting architect behind City's destruction, helped himself to the last two goals late on as the Manchester defence capitulated, leaving the marvellous Nicky Weaver alone but still defiant. City manager Joe Royle dismissed Henry's first goal as hand ball and the second as offside. And if that sounded like sour grapes Royle went on to claim it was his side who should have been playing against 10 men, with Henry fingered as the culprit.

"Henry should have been sent off for kicking Spencer Prior off the ball," said Royle. "But you don't send them off at home, do you?" Royle further insisted that the first booking which led to the eventual dismissal of his midfielder Danny Tiatto, for a foul on Oleg Luzhny, was "a nonsense".

So Arsenal, defeated on the season's opening day, have made impressive and unbeaten amends since. Quite correctly, Royle praised them as "a terrific side, with so much pace and movement". These qualities were demonstrated from the start, as Henry drove narrowly wide and Robert Pires twice demanded outstanding saves of Weaver before departing with a recurrence of his hamstring problems after 20 minutes.

Pires was joined on the injured list by Luzhny, who limped out of the action after 69 minutes, and Patrick Vieira, a groin damage victim near the end. "Suddenly, from having no injuries at the club, we now have six," said Wenger. But his squad look impressive enough to absorb the damage.

City's top scorer of last season, Shaun Goater, on his first appearance following a summer knee operation, had already been booked for fouling Vieira from behind, before Prior and Henry tangled in the incident Royle claimed should have seen the Frenchman dismissed. Arsenal's manager Arsÿne Wenger admitted Henry might have been yellow-carded but said: "It would have been harsh to send him off."

Harsh was one of the many words used by Royle about the dismissal of Tiatto three minutes before half-time. It started with one of Henry's marvellous, surging bursts into space, trailed by three blue-shirted markers. It was Tiatto who managed to make contact, producing a spectacular fall and loud demands from Henry for punishment against Tiatto. Referee Rob Styles obliged, flourishing the red card, and City were further punished from the free kick, which was touched aside by Dennis Bergkamp for the 19-year-old Ashley Cole, on his first home start, to drive a low, left-footed ball just inside Weaver's post.

City struck back at once as John Lukic, playing his first league game for over three years, pulled off a great save from Goater. But any hopes that City's 10 men could hang on lasted for only seven minutes into the second half. Pires' replacement, Fredrik Ljungberg, drifted across the edge of the penalty area before executing a smart backheel, which left Bergkamp with space and time to curl his shot just beyond Weaver's despairing dive. There would have been a third inside a minute but for Weaver's stunning denial of Vieira's goalbound effort.

As Arsenal knocked the ball about, inviting City to come forward and stretch themselves, the energetic Paul Dickov obliged. He bustled to the byline against his old club and crossed the ball to find Goater alone in front of the net. From three yards Goater filed a claim for miss of the season by shovelling his shot high over the bar and departed soon after. His replacement, Mark Kennedy, could have scored, too, but he was slow to react having dispossessed a careless Lukic.

After that the roof fell in on City. After 75 minutes, Henry set up the newly-arrived Sylvain Wiltord, who obliged by scoring smartly through Weaver's legs. With eight minutes left, Wiltord returned the compliment, crossing from the byline to Henry who, as Royle complained, appeared to handle as he brought the ball under control before driving it home. Then, with Vieira off and Arsenal having already used the permitted number of substitutes, Henry completed the demolition job. He got away on the halfway line, sent a pass out to Wiltord and galloped into position to receive the return and chip it over Weaver. Was it offside, as Royle insisted? By then it hardly mattered.

As both managers agreed, the dismissal of Tiatto had been the turning point in a match which had, until then, promised to be a close contest.

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