Henry sends Arsenal top after penalty controversy

Charlton Athletic 1 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Online

The valley has been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal but yesterday they were the hunted. Charlton Athletic, enjoying one of those bursts of form that sustains them each season, wanted their scalp. Having beaten Liverpool in their last home game, Arsenal were now in their sights.

That Arsène Wenger's side survived the white heat of this encounter after having suffered a cold bath in Kiev in midweek said much about their commendable reserves of resilience.

The draw returned them to the top of the Premiership and retained the sole remaining unbeaten record. It was also, remarkably, the first time in 10 encounters they had come back from a Champions' League match and not won.

A point was preserved through another strike by the extraordinary Thierry Henry - a free-kick and his ninth of the season - after Charlton had been awarded a somewhat dubious penalty.

Wenger's verdict (he saw this one) was typically acerbic. "It was nice. There was no water underneath, but it was nice," he said of Matt Holland's reaction to Lauren's challenge. A dive then? "I've been told it was fortuitous," Charlton's Alan Curbishley said. "The smaller clubs don't get that many (penalties). One of my scouts who has been looking at Arsenal wrote down how many Thierry Henry has had. It's in double figures."

The kick was converted with audacious confidence by that other showman, Paolo Di Canio, who, unfortunately, later limped off injured. A pity. His presence could have made the difference and pushed Arsenal even further as both sides searched for their fourth successive league win. Scott Parker, in the Charlton midfield, was as prodigious as ever and Curbishley, rightly, bemoaned his continued lack of international opportunities.

He seemed riled and delighted at the same time. "No one appears to rotate against us," he said of the Arsenal line-up. It was, undoubtedly, a compliment from Wenger, who played his strongest available side - none of whom will, incidentally, feature against Rotherham United in the Carling Cup tomorrow.

The gist of Curbishley's team talk was clear from his programme notes. "It feels like a lot of people think we shouldn't have beaten a team like..." he said, twice referring to recent triumphs. Not quite "no one loves us, we don't care", but something close.

It was certainly spiky, and so were his team. His midfield four were superior, with Parker sublimely constructive and destructive. Although the visitors were dominant in possession at a ground where they had won 3-0 twice before, they appeared weary, with Henry working in a different time zone from everyone else.

Committed, perhaps over-committed, Charlton were guilty of a string of fouls around their penalty area. They were also able to break quickly with Di Canio dropping off to link.

However, it left Jonatan Johansson exposed further forward. No matter. The ball cannoned around Arsenal's area. It landed at Holland's feet and he fell as he ran across Lauren, who was booked for his protests. Penalty.

As Jens Lehmann danced manically along his line, Di Canio waited and then chipped the ball into the centre of the goal with the goalkeeper already grounded. Pure theatre. As were Wenger's comments that Holland's reaction was more heinous than Pires' rightly maligned penalty earned against Portsmouth. "Robert was touched," he said.

Arsenal had been roused. "I think we had a difficult start and the penalty had one merit," Wenger said. "It woke us up." Curbishley agreed. His game plan had been to use containment as a platform. His players had struck early and didn't know how to react. The initiative swung. Pires was pushed inside behind the strikers to create a more attacking formation. It worked. First Henry cut in and his brilliant left-foot shot struck a post. Then another free-kick was surrendered and this time the striker curled it into the far corner.

Dean Kiely, the Charlton goalkeeper, had been so alarmed at the prospect of what was to come that he stationed a defender on his near side - allowing Arsenal to flood the six-yard area. Dennis Bergkamp stood before the goalkeeper as Henry shot. "It was the only place I could put it," Henry said. Indeed.

After the break, the tempo quickened, although Arsenal retreated. Pires went back to the wing. Chances were scant. Kolo Touré, in desperation, turned the ball over his own crossbar as Ashley Cole clambered all over Johansson. Jason Euell carried the fight but it was Kanu who went closest, his shot from an angle coming back off Kiely.

Goals: Di Canio pen (27) 1-0; Henry (38) 1-1.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 6; Kishishev 6, Perry 6, Fish 5, Hreidarsson 5; Holland 7, Jensen 7, Parker 9, Stuart 7; Di Canio 8 (Euell 7, 45), Johansson 6 (Campbell-Ryce 5, 76). Substitutes not used: Royce (gk), Powell, Fortune.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann 6; Lauren 4, Campbell 5, Touré 6, Cole 4; Ljungberg 5 (Kanu 6, 70), Parlour 6, Gilberto 4, Pires 5; Bergkamp 4 (Wiltord 4, 70), Henry 9. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Edu, Cygan.

Bookings: Charlton: Parker; Arsenal: Lauren.

Referee: S Dunn 5 (Bristol).

Man of the match: Henry.

Attendance: 26,660.

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