Henry proves value for money

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The Independent Online

Arsenal were nominated Team of the Century this week. Quite what that makes Wimbledon is open to debate. Clearly, the news of Arsenal's aristocracy had not reached the nether reaches of south London. With varying degrees of finesse, Wimbledon continued their glorious defiance of the odds, snatching an early lead through Carl Cort on a ground where they have enjoyed some of their finer underdog moments, if not in the last two visits, and hanging for dear life.

Arsenal were nominated Team of the Century this week. Quite what that makes Wimbledon is open to debate. Clearly, the news of Arsenal's aristocracy had not reached the nether reaches of south London. With varying degrees of finesse, Wimbledon continued their glorious defiance of the odds, snatching an early lead through Carl Cort on a ground where they have enjoyed some of their finer underdog moments, if not in the last two visits, and hanging for dear life.

For a depleted Arsenal, it was a frustrating day; for Wimbledon, confirmation of a recent revival and compensation for their midweek disappointment at Bolton. Thierry Henry's equaliser prompted a frenetic final half-hour, but Arsenal's pressure lacked cohesion and with Kanu, jeered before kick-off and during the game, wasting the best chances, Arsenal were unable to turn superiority into goals.

Deprived of Dennis Bergkamp and Martin Keown through injury and Patrick Vieira through suspension, Wenger explored the fringes of his considerable squad. To add to his woes, Tony Adams failed to recover from flu and Oleg Luzhny was drafted into central defence to partner Gilles Grimandi. The makeshift pairing were still finding their feet when Wimbledon struck. And a fluent move it was too.

Jason Euell, who has found a new lease of life on the left side of the Wimbledon midfield, released Marcus Gayle with a precisely weighted pass which drew Gayle into a low left-footed cross. Quite what Alex Manninger saw of the resulting flick by Cort is anyone's guess, but, much to the Austrian's embarrassment, the ball clipped the inside of his left ankle and rolled apologetically over the line.

If they had not anticipated it beforehand - and an aggregate scoreline of 10-1 over the past two seasons suggested this might be one of their more comfortable Premiership outings - the goal condemned Arsenal to an afternoon of hard graft. A goal to the good away from home is Wimbledon territory and they defended every yard of the Highbury turf with typical vigour. Rather too typical for the liking of Petit, whose exchange with John Hartson over the misuse of an elbow had Welshman and Frenchman eyeball to eyeball for a combustible moment.

Arsenal were out of sorts, lacking width for long periods as Nigel Winterburn, captain for the day, had his hands full with Cort, while Silvinho, operating down the left side of midfield, struggled to get into the game. Their best chance of the first half fell, sadly, to Lee Dixon's left-foot after a rebound from a free-kick had found Winterburn free down the left. His low cross was spooned clock-high over the bar. Winterburn, clearly determined to enjoy his day as leader, had a fierce drive parried by Sullivan.

Massed for long periods in defence, Wimbledon broke with pace. Euell should have done better with a final pass which ran too far for Michael Hughes, on as substitute for the injured Gayle. Hartson had a shot well saved by Manninger from an acute angle.

Wenger had every right to demand greater output from some of his more illustrious players. Kanu, for one, seemed to have his mind on the minutiae of his new wage demands, deemed outrageous by the hierarchy at Highbury, but, as Kanu doubtless would have pointed out, quite in line with the going rate revised so dramatically by Roy Keane. The queue for equality will not be forming exclusively outside Sir Alex Ferguson's door. Kanu did his cause no good yesterday, as the Highbury crowd was not slow to point out. The spectre of Nicolas Anelka still looms over Highbury.

As Wimbledon withdrew their wide men to reinforce the midfield, unwisely allowing Arsenal to go forward with abandon, it was Henry who broke down the stubborn Wimbledon defence. Henry had been the exception to Arsenal's lethargy in the first half and when he tucked home Silvinho's low cross from the left to equalise just after the hour mark, there was no more deserving scorer. Wenger brought on Davor Suker for Winterburn, dropping Silvinho back to left-back, and Kanu, left free six yards out, headed over when he should have put Arsenal ahead. Moments later, he carved out an opening for himself with an extraordinary piece of skill. Though his final shot was blocked, Dixon's follow-up flying header forced Sullivan to save by his left post.

By now, Wimbledon's forays over the half-way line were rare and Hartson looked a forlorn figure up front. Their defence, too, had long since passed from the disciplined to the desperate. A low drive from 20 yards by Kanu produced another save by Sullivan. Overmars, an exasperatingly peripheral figure, dashed clear on the left only for his cross to be intercepted by Sullivan, who also saved the Dutchman's low drive. Suker, Kanu and Overmars had chances but Wimbledon proved themselves once more the century's greatest survivors.

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