Charlton Athletic 0 Arsenal 1: Arsenal run ends in style... and sulks

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The Independent Football

It started with a pout and ended with a pirouette. In between, Thierry Henry's performance summed up that of Arsenal right now - a malaise of inconsistency threatening to subsume the shards of brilliance.

Henry hit the crossbar with a right-footed free-kick, played a pivotal part in the winning goal but also shrugged and downright sulked his way through a contest which nevertheless arrested Arsenal's run of three Premiership defeats, the worst endured under Arsène Wenger.

That second-half goal, volleyed in by Jose Antonio Reyes, was the first they have scored in the league in 328 minutes - a statistic almost as rare as those trio of losses - and only the second scored by the Spaniard this season.

"He is someone who plays on creative instinct," Wenger said afterwards, explaining the 22-year-old's continued lack of confidence, despite the fact that the manager tinkered with his formation to fully accommodate Reyes. But his words also served as a comment on his side.

Any chance of a Charlton comeback - granted a rare commodity in itself of late - was killed by the dismissal of Danny Murphy with 18 minutes left. Having been booked in the first half, for a foolish trip on Alexander Hleb to concede the Henry free-kick, the midfielder was shown a second card when flinging the ball into the turf in frustration after Hermann Hreidarsson was penalised.

"I have no time for him getting himself sent off," said the Charlton manager Alan Curbishley although he highlighted a sly challenge by Cesc Fabregas that ended Gonzalo Sorondo's involvement and left the defender with a badly bruised foot. "He tackled over the ball," said Curbishley, calling it one of the "professional niggles" that are more perfidious than dissent.

He went on to accuse the referee Steve Bennett of being "officious" and, as he is from Orpington (about 15 miles from the Valley), of going out of his way not to show local favouritism. "He certainly showed none of that," Curbishley said of an official who has dismissed players in each of his last four matches.

Charlton also have alarming statistics, having lost seven of their last eight matches and Curbishley added that he had no intention of "hiding behind" the refereeing controversies. Instead he reacted severely to that run by changing half his team.

Not just that but Curbishley included four players who had not started before in the Premiership this season. "I just wanted to get six new faces in there who have been unaffected," he admitted. Wenger kept the faith, although he was relieved that Henry passed a late fitness test, on his troublesome Achilles, to make his 200th Premiership start, while Reyes returned after a three-match absence to earn the victory which was only Arsenal's second away from home.

Wenger declared the "big three points" were a relief while admitting that his players had been nervous and edgy and lacking the "spontaneous attitude" that is their hallmark.

It was all summed up in one brilliant first-half move in which Reyes, tracking back, dispossessed Luke Young and initiated a breathtakingly fluent passing move down the left which involved four other Arsenal players. It dissected the Charlton defence so completely that Fredrik Ljungberg was picked out in centre-field, and unmarked. But he delayed, dallied and Thomas Myhre blocked. The Swede has not scored all season. "You could see that was on his mind," Wenger said.

If Reyes provided the cutting edge and Henry the mercurial cameo, then the ballast came from Sol Campbell who executed a vital tackle on Darren Bent as he shaped to shoot from eight yards as half-time approached. Before that Henry had reacted quickly, exploiting Charlton's defensive hesitancy, to head beyond Myhre.

As the ball bounced towards goal, Jonathan Fortune beat Ljungberg to it and hooked away. As the hour approached, Ljungberg turned provider, slipping a pass to Henry. His first shot was blocked by Sorondo while his follow-up struck Myhre's boot. Unfortunately for Charlton the ricochet looped up for Reyes to smash into the net.

The home side pleaded vainly for a penalty, claiming Pascal Cygan had hand-balled but it was more in desperation than hope as Murphy's dismissal aided Arsenal's composure. There was even time for Henry's shimmy and balletic spin to evade Young. But it didn't fully gloss over the continuing concerns.

Goal: Reyes (58) 0-1 .

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Myhre; Young, Sorondo (Spector, 65), Fortune, Hreidarsson; Kishishev (Ambrose, 79), Holland, Murphy, Hughes; Bartlett (Lisbie, 70), Bent. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Perry.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Lehmann; Lauren, Campbell, Touré, Cygan; Fabregas, Gilberto, Hleb (Pires, 75); Ljungberg, Henry, Reyes (Flamini, 80). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos, Eboue.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Charlton Sorondo, Murphy, Young, Hreidarsson; Arsenal Lauren, Campbell.

Sent off: Charlton Murphy (72).

Man of the match: Campbell.

Attendance: 27,111.

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