Henry stalks Wright's record with treble

Arsenal 4 - Norwich City 1
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The Independent Football

Forget the talk of Alan Shearer and Jackie Milburn's double century - at this rate Thierry Henry will comfortably surpass Ian Wright's record as Arsenal's all-time highest goalscorer before even this season is out. He won't need another term. A hat-trick here, his second in successive home League games, took his tally to 181. He no longer shares second place with Cliff Bastin and is now just a paltry four behind Wright.

"I would be worried if I was Ian Wright," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "You know it means more for Ian Wright to catch him back," he added jokingly, before offering the knockabout pay-off: "He hates him".

Given that Henry has scored seven times in three games, the celebrations may come next month. And that is simply astonishing. Goodness knows what his total will be when he finally leaves the club, but as he is still just 27, and wants to retire in red and white, then Shearer's own Premiership record is likely to be obliterated by this silkiest of assassins.

Even more significantly for Arsenal, this result lifted them above Manchester United into second place. Goal difference could be vital and, with Arsenal firing again, Wenger appeared confident. "The margin is small," he said. "But with seven games to go it is better that we are in front."

Wenger also found time to question the wisdom of France's beleaguered coach, Raymond Domenech, who had inexplicably failed to use Henry at all in the World Cup qualifier against Israel in midweek. "He was nicely rested," Wenger said with a smile. He had watched the game and wondered why his striker had not come on in the second half.

France's loss was Arsenal's game, and even if Henry was still not fully fit, and even if, as Wenger said, he had to play more with his brain than his body, it was far too much for Norwich City. The display did little to dispel the theory of Henry as a flat-track bully, but that can be reserved for the churlish right now. There were also signs of petulance and irritating showboating, but much else about him was simply consummate, especially when it is remembered just what degree of Arsenal's attacking threat he perennially carries. He also wore the captain's armband in the absence of Patrick Vieira.

Two goals in three first-half minutes appeared to kill the contest. First the ball was cleverly slipped to him inside the area and he coolly drifted across two bemused defenders before planting a right-foot shot beyond the goalkeeper, Robert Green. Then he collected Jose Antonio Reyes's short pass on the corner of the penalty area, shimmied, dummied and curled the ball around Green. It was all the more cruel because it took a decisive deflection, and all the more harsh as, moments earlier, Norwich's Dean Ashton had been pulled up for a foul on the hesitant Pascal Cygan when he had merely appeared to outmuscle him to create a path to goal.

Arsenal, with Gilberto Silva returning after six months out with a damaged back, shifted through the gears. Before Henry's interventions, Reyes should have scored but shot weakly, and after the opening goals he skidded a low shot narrowly wide. And then Norwich struck. Again it exposed Arsenal's defensive frailties, which had been masked by five successive clean sheets. Jens Lehmann punched weakly at a corner and the ball was slammed back in by Graham Stuart. His wayward shot reached Darren Huckerby, who all too easily brushed aside Robert Pires's lame challenge and thumped the ball into the roof of the net from the angle.

It mattered little. Five minutes after the interval and Fredrik Ljungberg, who had earlier had a delicate, lofted shot cleared off the line, headed in Lauren's chip at the back post from just a yard out. It was a soft goal. Then Reyes charged into the area and was upended. The referee, Alan Wiley, played advantage and the ball ran to Henry, who poked his shot in from eight yards.

It repeated the scoreline of when the sides met last autumn. "It is difficult coming out of the First Division and meeting that quality," admitted Norwich's manager, Nigel Worthington. It will be a brief experience.