Henry wakes to shake Villa

The England succession: Wenger has bargaining power, Gregory has potential
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The Independent Football

Having put all the talk about who the next England manager should be behind him by dismissing any suggestion that he might do the job on a part-time basis, Arsÿne Wenger finished an eventful afternoon just happy to have seen the club he intends staying with for the rest of his contract grind out a laboured victory. Aston Villa matched them - and more - until Thierry Henry awoke from his slumbers to score in the 61st minute and Lee Hendrie was sent off, the referee, Rob Harris, belatedly realising that he had twice shown him a yellow card.

Having put all the talk about who the next England manager should be behind him by dismissing any suggestion that he might do the job on a part-time basis, Arsÿne Wenger finished an eventful afternoon just happy to have seen the club he intends staying with for the rest of his contract grind out a laboured victory. Aston Villa matched them - and more - until Thierry Henry awoke from his slumbers to score in the 61st minute and Lee Hendrie was sent off, the referee, Rob Harris, belatedly realising that he had twice shown him a yellow card.

It was an incident almost as embarrassing as Harris' gaffe last season, when he briefly allowed Tranmere to play with 11 men in an FA Cup tie against Sunderland despite having sent one of them off. After Hendrie, booked a little earlier for kicking the ball away at a free-kick, nudged Robert Pires as the Arsenal man went for goal, the official first shook his head as if disinclined to take the book out at all; he then produced the yellow card, but had clearly forgotten about the first one. Only when forcibly reminded of it by several Arsenal players did he reach for a red and send Hendrie packing.

"Today's result was very important," said Wenger, after learning that Manchester United had won at Leicester and that his team had slid into their customary second place in the table with a sixth successive home victory. "Now we have to win away from home, with big tests at Lazio [on Tuesday] and West Ham."

Wenger felt that having 15 players at various internationals for a week had hindered his preparation, which was why he left out three of them in Martin Keown, Oleg Luzhny and Fredrik Ljungberg. The return of Patrick Vieira from a five-match suspension should have compensated, though it was a reminder that the path of true love has not always run sweetly in Wenger's romance with English football. It was after the first of Vieira's two dismissals in three days at the start of the season that his manager was drawn into a dispute in the tunnel which has now resulted in a 12-match ban from the touchline and a fine of £100,000 that he is prepared to contest as far as is necessary.

Villa's John Gregory, who has also earned the wrath of officialdom and a touchline ban in the past, may be a contender for higher office eventually, especially if he is able to count to 10 more successfully when vexed by match officials or media representatives. One of Doug Ellis' better appointments after working at Wycombe Wanderers, he has quickly re-established Villa as a top-six team, while lacking the funds to make the next step up.

Gregory, who developed a taste for sitting in the stand while serving his ban last season, must have enjoyed the view from Highbury's listed East Stand for the first hour yesterday. Once David James had saved well, one-handed and low down, from Dennis Bergkamp early on, Villa made all the chances until half-time.

Gareth Southgate, unexpectedly, was on the end of two of them, when poorly marked at set-pieces. In the 10th minute, he met Hendrie's cross with a volley that David Seaman (jeered by the visiting fans as "Germany's No 1") did well to block; eight minutes later, Southgate was at the back post to hit a shot down into the ground, Seaman having to stretch to push the ball away.

Arsenal struggled for a long while to progress against a defence in which the wing-backs, Steve Stone and Alan Wright, dropped deep at the first sign of trouble. There were not many of those, to the frustration of the home crowd. It hardly seemed necessary at the time for James to spend most of the interval out on the pitch, practising handling crosses.

He was required to rush out at the feet of Pires after a slip by the only non-Englishman in Villa's side, Turkey's Alpay Ozalan, but was otherwise unemployed until picking the ball out of his net in under- standable disgust after 61 minutes. Pires ran from the halfway line before releasing the hitherto anonymous Henry, whose shot whizzed between Barry's legs and across the goalkeeper into the far corner of the net.

Hendrie's dismissal was the second blow to hit the visitors within six minutes, and one from which there was to be no recovering. "He's a prat," said Gregory, speaking, it should be emphasised at once, of his player rather than the referee. "To get booked for throwing the ball away is needless and he's walking a tightrope after that."

Villa would have felt even harder done by if Southgate had not raced back to clear Bergkamp's chip off the line or James had not saved when Henry's replacement, Sylvain Wiltord, was clean through.

Meanwhile, Wenger's pragmatic side was illustrated by his decision to replace Bergkamp with an extra defender, in Luzhny, even against 10 men.

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