Arsenal 3 Sheffield United 0: Henry conjures welcome home comfort for Arsenal

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The Independent Online

Perhaps now, after Arsenal's first Premiership victory at their new ground, the Emirates Stadium will feel more like home. Arsène Wenger certainly believes so after seeing his men get their feet under the table with a second-half performance that had everything to do with the inspired domestic touches of Thierry Henry.

The man who will celebrate his 10th anniversary as Arsenal manager this week maintains that his players are gradually getting used to the new dimensions of a pitch that is five metres longer and four metres wider than their previous one, and to the different visual markers around them. "We still have Highbury in our mind when we play here," he said. "It takes time. But I feel more every time that we are adapting."

It is a process that supporters have found as taxing as the players and manager they follow. For most, the route to the new stadium leads past the old, which is now no more than a grandly emblazoned shell. Before Saturday's game, small boys and middle-aged men took it in turns to peer through a hole in the boarding across an entrance to the old North Bank which offered a view of fractured stands amid a mess of sand, rubble, girders and cement mixers.

One grey-haired supporter raised himself gingerly from the temporary vantage point with a meditative "deary me" before joining the mass of fans in their march towards the future. It is a future still full of wonder for Arsenal followers, many of whom could hardly have treated their new venue with more awe on Saturday had it been a spaceship that had just landed by the Hornsey Road.

"Jeez, what a stadium!" exclaimed one fan as he gained a first clear view. "That is cool," said his friend, struggling along with many others to contain the vision within the parameters of his mobile phone camera.

By half-time, however, home followers had considerably less cause for enthusiasm having seen their side curbed by heroic defending. Porto, whom Arsenal host in the Champions' League tomorrow, are likely to offer a far more complex challenge than that doggedly presented by a team hoping to offer Neil Warnock a tangible reward on the occasion of his 1,000th match as a League manager. But they will not manage to be any more obdurate.

"Sheffield made it very difficult for us," Wenger said. "You could see in the first half when we could not make a difference early that it started to play on the minds of the players. They knew that after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, anything but a win today would not be good enough. But I always felt the goals would come."

Wenger's faith was justified in the 65th minute when Henry, who had been horribly out of touch in the first half having returned from an absence with a foot injury, lifted a wicked little lob into the box that coincided perfectly with a forward run from Cesc Fabregas, and the midfielder's first touch teed the ball up for the high-class Chelsea import William Gallas to drive home a volley unopposed.

Within four minutes the lead doubled as Henry, despite being attended by three United players, reached the left byline and produced a cross that panicked the central defender Phil Jagielka into waving a foot at the ball and sending it over his own line.

The coup de grace was applied by the man himself as he headed home a right wing cross from Emmanuel Eboué. It formed the last part of a hugely comforting statement from Henry to all Arsenal fans: home is where the art is.

Goals: Gallas 65 (1-0), Jagielka og 69 (2-0), Henry 80 (3-0).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Gallas; Ljungberg (Baptista, 77min), Fabregas, Gilberto Silva, Rosicky (Hleb, 70); Adebayor (Van Persie, 70), Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Flamini.

Sheffield United (5-4-1): Bennett; Geary (Quinn, 77), Sommeil (Kozluk, 77), Davis, Jagielka, Wright; Gillespie, Leigertwood, Armstrong, Kazim-Richards (Kabba, 88); Hulse. Substitutes not used: Bromby, Akinbiyi.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffs).

Booked: Arsenal: Fabregas, Eboué.

Man of the match: Henry.

Attendance: 59,912.

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