Henry propels Arsenal back into contention

Leicester City 1 Arsenal 3
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Arsenal duly rose from fifth to second in the Premiership last night, a point behind Manchester United with a game in hand, though a combination of their own complacency and a brave revival by bottom-placed Leicester turned what looked certain to be a routine victory into an exercise in brinkmanship.

The match was deep in stoppage time before Sylvain Wiltord, a late substitute, put the points beyond doubt with Arsenal's third goal. Few would have expected them to have to wait so long after Giovanni van Bronckhorst, with the first of his Highbury career, and Thierry Henry, whose tally of 17 League goals is two more than Leicester have managed in total, put Arsène Wenger's men on cruise control in a one-sided first half.

The delay was all the more surprising given that an injury to Frank Sinclair, shortly after Dave Bassett had made a triple substitution, left Leicester a player short for the final half-hour. Muzzy Izzet promptly gave the home team hope with a well-taken goal, and Arsenal were thankful for the full-length save by Richard Wright which prevented Matt Elliott's towering header from making it 2-2 with 10 minutes left.

Wenger expressed satisfaction afterwards that Arsenal are again masters of their own destiny in the quest for their first championship in five years. "It's back in our own hands now, which is the best place for it," the Frenchman said. "I've been saying for many weeks now that my team has great belief and spirit. We've had two difficult away fixtures, against Leeds and Leicester, and come away with four points that could well have been six. We're up for it, no matter what Man United do."

Bassett, despite Leicester's position some seven points from safety, showed that he has not lost his penchant for gallows humour. "We're going to start with 10 men in future and see how it goes," he quipped. "In the first half we were chasing the game. All their players looked technically better than ours, as you'd expect when you look at their international caps and transfer values. But all credit to my players ­ they could have gone down by four or five after Frank went off but they found the pace and energy to make a game of it."

For all Leicester's initial feistiness, the tempo established by Arsenal often had them chasing shadows. Shots began raining in on Tim Flowers, Henry's free-kick from 35 yards slapping against the post.

If there was an inevitability about Arsenal's 32nd-minute breakthrough, the identity of both supplier and scorer had an unfamiliar ring. Oleg Luzhny, the Ukrainian right-back, crossed for Van Bronckhorst to open his account after the £8.5m switch from Rangers with a header that defeated Flowers' dive.

Ten minutes later, a catalogue of errors in the Leicester defence, principally by Callum Davidson and Jacob Laursen, turned a through-pass by Bergkamp into a contest between Patrick Vieira and Henry to see who would stroke the loose ball past the goalkeeper. The leading scorer duly obliged.

Desperate circumstances demand desperate measures, and Bassett introduced three substitutes for the second half. Two, Ade Akinbiyi and Trevor Benjamin, formed a new front line, while Matthew Jones joined a midfield now including Izzet.

Leicester at last made Wright break sweat in the 51st minute. Akinbiyi, whose arrival was cheered with gusto for a forward with a solitary Premiership goal, headed down to Izzet, whose volley was comfortably parried.

Leicester's shake-up, allied to a sense among the Arsenal players that the points were secure, led to a return to the deceptively even contest that had preceded the opening goal. But any chance of a dramatic fightback seemed to disappear on the hour along with Sinclair, who sustained a hip injury in an accidental clash with Pires.

But Arsenal's casual approach ­ with an eye on Sunday's FA Cup collision with Liverpool, no doubt ­ offered a glimmer of hope. With 23 minutes left, Andrew Impey's corner was met by a header from Izzet which the diving Wright could not keep out.

Briefly, tantalisingly, Leicester threatened a fightback like the one to which nine-man Bolton subjected them at Christmas. Wiltord, with an assist by the selfless, silky Pires, finally disabused them of such thoughts with a 20-yard curler, ensuring a scoreline reflecting the overall balance of the match.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Flowers 6; Sinclair 4, Elliott 6, Laursen 4, Davidson 5 (Benjamin 5, h-t,); Impey 5, Oakes 3 (Jones 6, h-t), Savage 5, Rogers 4; Scowcroft 3 (Akinbiyi 5, h-t), Izzet 7. Substitutes not used: Stewart, Andrews (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Wright 7; Luzhny 6, Keown 7, Campbell 5, Cole 6; Parlour 6 (Grimandi, 78), Vieira 6, Van Bronckhorst 6 (Upson, 90), Pires 8; Bergkamp 6 (Wiltord, 78), Henry 7. Substitutes not used: Dixon, Stack (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).