Arsenal 3 Tottenham Hotspur 0: Henry steals limelight after supporting cast shine against Spurs

Click to follow

Guess who wasn't playing on Saturday but was in the tunnel before the match in full view of the Sky cameras? The same person who leapt off the bench and made a big fuss of celebrating Emmanuel Adebayor's goal with him. The same bloke, in fact, in a blue overcoat who was on the pitch at the end slapping backs and shaking hands.

Thierry Henry might call it a captain's duty, others might call it a pathological inability to allow anyone else to be the centre of attention. Were we at the Emirates Stadium to witness a compelling Arsenal victory over their old rivals after two rocky defeats or simply the next instalment in the Thierry Henry movie? A movie which the man himself writes, stars in and directs. Sometimes at Arsenal it is difficult to know.

There was a time at Liverpool, barely 15 years ago, when injured players sat on cushions on the steps of the press box. This at a club where Alan Hansen once said if you were injured, you were invisible to the manager (which is why no one was injured for long). And as the knocks took their toll on Roy Keane he would sit huddled anonymously in his coat at the back of Manchester United's directors' box with a ring of empty seats around him and a glare that no one could meet.

Not for Henry, however, the wings of the theatre when centre stage beckons. He arrived at the stadium at 9.30am to rebut the reports he had fallen out with Arsène Wenger over his suitability to play against Tottenham - a speech delivered with a poignantly hurt and wearied tone to television and radio before the game. And then instead of melting into the background, he kept forcing his way back into the storyline. Certainly he waited for Robin van Persie to invite him into the post-match celebrations. But he did not need much persuading.

The trouble with Henry's take on the alleged bust-up was that it did not quite tally with that of his manager. Henry denied he had reacted badly to the news he was being left out, just that he was "upset because I don't like to not play". Whether he put on Saturday's performance, which Wenger admitted was Henry's "own initiative", to atone or simply because he could not bear to be excluded only he will know. At Arsenal they will in private shake their heads and explain that this is the price you pay for having one of the greatest footballers in the world. Others may disagree.

No one would seriously suggest Arsenal are a better team without Henry, but Saturday gave the Emirates a glimpse of what life would have been like had he decided to answer that challenge in Barcelona this summer. And the news was far from apocalyptic. Adebayor rose to the challenge, Gilberto was a tremendous stand-in captain and Kolo Touré and Cesc Fabregas excelled. Even Freddie Ljungberg put on a vintage performance, making life miserable for the full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Tottenham were so well beaten that even though you could make a strong case that all of Arsenal's goals should have been disallowed, Martin Jol did not try to hide the fact that his team had been outplayed. He changed the side that beat Wigan last week to leave out Tom Huddlestone for the ineffectual Teemu Tianio in centre midfield and dropped Jermain Defoe who scored in that victory. Jol has still not won away in the Premiership this season.

Adebayor's run for his first goal from Johan Djourou's ball may have been offside, Pascal Chimbonda's tackle on Tomas Rosicky, which earned the first penalty, was not a foul and Van Persie seemed to handle the ball on the way to winning the second penalty off Jermaine Jenas's trip. Apart from those three small matters, Tottenham had nothing to complain about. Jol switched Aaron Lennon from right to left and back again despite the fact that he had the beating of Gaël Clichy and his side scarcely had a shot on goal.

Gilberto put his penalties in different corners and later he said he believed Arsenal's chance of closing a 16-point gap on Manchester United, on whom they have a game in hand, was unlikely. "To be realistic the gap is too big," he said "But we need to do the best we can."

Next is Arsenal's Champions' League trip to Porto on Wednesday from which they need a point to qualify for the next round and Henry is suspended regardless of how his sciatic nerve problem progresses. After that is Sunday's visit to Chelsea for which all the anticipation and conjecture will be around the fitness of Henry - which, judging by Saturday, is probably the way he likes it anyway.

"They were going to run a story saying I was in France sulking," Henry explained. "I have been at the ground since 9.30am. I don't know if you ever watched Star Trek but I don't have the power to teleport myself." It was just about the only time all day he confessed to a weakness.

Goals: Adebayor (20) 1-0; Gilberto pen (42) 2-0; Gilberto pen (72) 3-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Clichy; Ljungberg, Fabregas, Gilberto, Rosicky (Hleb, 55); Adebayor (Walcott, 87), Van Persie (Baptista, 79). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Hoyte.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto (Lee, h-t); Lennon, Zokora, Tainio (Defoe, 80), Malbranque (Jenas, h-t); Keane, Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Huddlestone.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Arsenal Gilberto; Tottenham Hotspur Assou-Ekotto, Jenas.

Man of the match: Gilberto.

Attendance: 60,115.