Arsenal 3 Sunderland 1

Henry hailed as tormentor in chief
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The Independent Football

One spectacular overhead effort which clipped an upright deserved the hat-trick. Even the imperturbable Wenger was moved to enthuse: "It would have been a fantastic goal."

The only surprise in the unending procession towards Sunderland's 18-year-old goalkeeper, Ben Alnwick, was that Sunderland should have pulled a goal back. It was enough for Wenger to switch to stern, headmasterly mode. "Sometimes we are a bit too comfortable," he said. "At 2-0 we weren't under threat and we could have been punished for not having taken our chances and having eased off a little too much. We want to entertain people, but first we want to win."

For Sunderland to have taken something from this occasion would have been unbelievable. They arrived burdened with various shoulder-bending statistics: not having won a League game in London for four and half years, and having leaked goals so alarmingly in their last three games that it had cost Kelvin Davis his place in goal.

His replacement, the England youth international Alnwick, was making his Premiership debut so the nervousness of his start, two poorly executed clearances, was forgiveable. But he was blameless for the goals and will be delighted that he will not always be required to deal with opposition who perform as devastatingly as this.

Arsenal are so commanding at Highbury that this, their sixth win in the League, lifted them to third in the table. No other result had looked likely from the moment an Alan Stubbs clearance bounced off Jose Antonio Reyes, permitting the Spaniard a clear run on goal which he finished wastefully. Five minutes later Sol Campbell, back to his commanding best, lofted a long ball which Robin van Persie took on his chest before drilling a shot left-footed between Alnwick and the near post.

Sunderland did their best to construct attacks, which invariably foundered on the rock called Campbell, and the only inevitability was a second Arsenal goal. It came nine minutes before the interval. Lauren embarked on one of those barging runs of his before crossing low. The centre evaded two straining defenders to reach Henry stationed at the far post and the score was a formality.

Two newcomers for the second half failed to improve Sunderland to any noticeable measure and once, when Campbell fell over trying to control the ball, no one was near enough to take advantage.

So the Great Arsenal Exhibition ran its course. Van Persie's attempt to lob Alnwick was estimable but inaccurate. So was another effort which struck the goal stanchion, and when the Dutchman ended a one-two with Henry by shooting low, Alnwick did well to block it.

Cue Henry's magic moment. He allowed Van Persie's chip to bounce off his chest before launching into a bicycle kick, only to be denied the goal of the season by the left-hand upright.

Perhaps Wenger too was guilty of overconfidence, removing Reyes and Van Persie from the action and introducing Emmanuel Eboué and Dennis Bergkamp, making his 300th League appearance. Possibly miffed by this arrogant gesture, Sunderland scored what was only the second goal Arsenal have permitted at home this season. A left wing corner was met at the far post by Steve Caldwell's downward header and Stubbs prodded in.

There could not have been a redder rag to Arsenal's raging bull. Cesc Fabregas slipped a pass to Henry, who cut inside Caldwell so decisively that the Sunderland man fell over. On went Mr Majestic to sidefoot another beautifully crafted goal and as Henry wheeled away to accept the congratulations Caldwell was still prone on the deck in bewilderment.

No wonder Wenger thinks he is worth a top award. "Thierry's overall contribution to football in the last five or six years deserves it as much as the Shevchenkos of the game," he claimed. Who can argue otherwise?

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