Rampant Charlton humiliate Arsenal

Arsenal 2 Charlton Athletic 4
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The Independent Football

Matches between Arsenal and Manchester United rarely play second fiddle to anything, but whatever happens in this evening's Worthington Cup tie is unlikely to match the extraordinary events of the first of Highbury's two games in successive days.

Tonight's match will be played with the ground still in a state of shock after watching Arsène Wenger's team dominate the first 20 minutes as comprehensively as they can ever have done, only to finish the game being booed off the pitch.

If the crowd's reaction was uncharitable, it reflected the frustration of a campaign in which Arsenal have already dropped more points at home than in the whole of last season, winning only one of their five games.

Never before had any visiting team scored four at Highbury in the Premiership, yet Charlton Athletic, having been utterly outplayed early on, achieved that feat in the space of 18 astonishing minutes on either side of half-time.

Yes, Charlton, a side that had scored only eight goals in 10 previous matches this season and not won away to their former Woolwich neighbours since 1955. Early in the second half, their supporters were chanting: "We want five." They must have wondered if they were dreaming.

Despite their poor start to a season of great expectation after last year's heroics, one of the qualities Alan Curbishley's team still possess is a defensive resilience that prevents serious beatings of the type recently suffered by West Ham.

Yesterday the South African international Mark Fish was outstanding, keeping his head and winning his headers while all around were losing theirs and giving the sort of performance Arsenal could have done with in the absence of David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Matthew Upson.

''There are specific problems in our defending that need sorting out," Wenger said. ''We are not solid enough at Highbury. The way we conceded the first two goals was not good enough. We were cruising and it became too easy. We were a bit too complacent and lost our edge."

With a quarter of the game gone, Arsenal should have been far away and out of sight. In the first few minutes, Thierry Henry lobbed against a post, Paul Konchesky clearing Dennis Bergkamp's shot off the line from the rebound.

It hardly seemed to matter when Henry, played in by Robert Pires, slid the ball deftly across Dean Kiely and into the far corner of the net.

Charlton's captain Mark Kinsella was next with a goal-line clearance, to prevent Patrick Vieira heading in a corner and in the 20th minute Steve Brown denied Henry with a brave block. Henry side-footed wide from 10 yards; Henry's chip gave Ashley Cole a good opportunity, which he scooped over the bar and then Henry, set to replicate his goal, drew Kiely before shooting just wide of the post.

Slowly Charlton began to command some possession, before the picture changed dramatically after two identical free-kicks out on the right. Konchesky floated each of them in, Brown jumping above Gilles Grimandi to send the first looping over Richard Wright, who then punched the second into his own net under challenge from Jason Euell. The mind went back to last season's corresponding fixture, when Charlton led 2-1 at half-time and finished up beaten 5-3 after Vieira took hold of the game.

This time, the Frenchman's error would undermine his team within three minutes of the resumption. Harrassed by Jonatan Johansson, he lost possession on the edge of the penalty area and Claus Jensen chipped in superbly off the far post to answer his manager's pre-match jibe: "Peter Schmeichel's scored more goals than my midfield."

That midfield soon became auxiliary defenders, but not until after Jensen had beaten two men to sent Euell through for a scarcely believable fourth goal. The erudite Wenger must have been thinking of Yeats (WB, not Liverpool's Ron): "Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold." Grimandi was booed for the rest of the game.

There were still 30 minutes left when Henry scored his second goal, from a debatable penalty, and had Arsenal quickly managed a third, the mood might have changed again. The Frenchman's shot against the outside of a post was the closest they came, as Charlton closed ranks to complete what Curbishley rightly called "a fantastic result for our club".

Goals: Henry (6) 1-0; Brown (35) 1-1; Wright og (43) 1-2; Jensen (49) 1-3; Euell (53) 1-4; Henry pen (60) 2-4.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Wright 3; Lauren 4, Keown 4, Grimandi 3, Cole 4 (Wiltord 5, 67); Ljungberg 5, Vieira 6, Van Bronckhorst 5, Pires 5; Bergkamp 7, Henry 5. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Luzhny, Parlour, Kanu.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 6; Young 6, Fish 8, Brown 6, Powell 6; Parker 6 (Peacock 6, 67), Kinsella 7, Jensen 8 (Bartlett, 81), Konchesky 7; Euell 6, Johansson 5 (Robinson, 79). Substitutes not used: Roberts (gk), Fortune.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City) 5.

Bookings: Arsenal: Cole, Vieira, Lauren. Charlton: Parker, Konchesky.

Man of the match: Fish.

Attendance: 38,010.