Thierry's triumph for friends reunited

Arsenal 4 Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Football

There was no need for ructions on the bus or anywhere else yesterday as Arsenal's friends reunited proved far too strong for the last London team to beat them in the Premiership - all of three seasons ago. Charlton Athletic, having started the day in seventh place, were simply washed away in the driving rain, barely mustering a shot on target all afternoon, and for all their dogged harrying were outclassed long before three outstanding second-half goals.

There was no need for ructions on the bus or anywhere else yesterday as Arsenal's friends reunited proved far too strong for the last London team to beat them in the Premiership - all of three seasons ago. Charlton Athletic, having started the day in seventh place, were simply washed away in the driving rain, barely mustering a shot on target all afternoon, and for all their dogged harrying were outclassed long before three outstanding second-half goals.

Thierry Henry's back-heel for the first of them was memorable even by his standards, and his thunderous second gave him 11 in eight games against his favourite opponents. Arsène Wenger, disappointed by the failure to secure a widely anticipated victory at Rosenborg in midweek - which led to the Norwegian police taking an interest in animated discussions between Patrick Vieira and Lauren - could hardly have wished for much more on the final weekend before another international break.

With Everton beaten at home, victory leaves his team five points clear of the field, keeping the pressure on Chelsea as they prepare to meet Liverpool this afternoon. "There was a question mark about our unity and we gave the right response," the manager said. "The performances of Lauren and Vieira were outstanding."

Asked about the lack of competitiveness in the Premiership this season, illustrated yesterday and, more starkly, when Middlesbrough were played off their own pitch by Chelsea last week, Wenger insisted: "I think this year competition will be very tight." That takes some believing.

Like most visiting managers, Charlton's Alan Curbishley could only hold his hands up in something akin to awe: "Arsenal are probably the best side in Europe or even the world when they get going," he said.

It has been a strange season for Arsenal's old Woolwich neighbours: mathematically their best start to a Premiership campaign, yet one dotted with poor performances. Although recruiting players of the standard of Danny Murphy, Dennis Rommedahl and Francis Jeffers seemed to indicate a forward step, all have taken time to settle - only Murphy starting regularly - and together they have not compensated for the loss of half a dozen of last season's squad.

With Shaun Bartlett also unfit, the south London side lacked any aerial threat to trouble the powerful Sol Campbell, who turned in a solid performance for Sven Goran Eriksson before being restored to the England squad this evening. The England manager was unable to check, however, on Ashley Cole, who was rested, along with Edu and Robert Pires. None of that trio were missed, with Gaël Clichy untroubled at left-back, the young prodigy Cesc Fabregas mature beyond belief alongside Vieira in midfield, and Jose Antonio Reyes as comfortable out on the left as he is supporting the main striker.

Charlton made a better start to the game than in last season's fixture; on that occasion, they were 2-0 down in four minutes. The first warning sign this time came when Henry fed a square pass to Dennis Bergkamp, whose drive from 20 yards shaved a post. Then Clichy was guilty of a wild finish after Charlton's keeper-captain, Dean Kiely, punched Henry's cross straight to his weaker foot.

Conceding possession even when not under pressure looked likely to cost the visitors, and after keeping the red hordes at bay for half an hour they did so once too often. Jason Euell was the offender, allowing Henry to send Bergkamp towards the by-line. Kiely followed him and was caught in no-man's-land as the Dutchman turned it back for Fredrik Ljungberg to score. By the time Graham Stuart put Charlton's only chance of the game wastefully high early in the second half, they were two goals behind.

The second resulted from the sort of flair that puts Arsenal on a different level to Charlton, and, to be fair, just about everyone else in the Premiership. With his back to goal and Jonathan Fortune glued to his shirt, Henry appeared to have no room for manoeuvre, but after weighing up the options he suddenly back-heeled the ball into the far corner of the net beyond a dumbfounded Kiely.

The third and fourth goals, coming within two minutes of each other, were less subtle, though no less thrilling for the home supporters. First Reyes and Henry toyed with the visitors' defence before the Frenchman thrashed a 20-yard shot in off the crossbar. In the next attack, Reyes claimed his seventh goal of the season with an almost equally powerful drive, arrowed low into the far corner.

Reyes should soon have added another; there was a disallowed goal from a substitute, Robin van Persie; and Vieira was denied the last laugh by a superb one-handed save from Kiely. The Arsenal captain was smiling contentedly enough at the final whistle - even at Lauren.

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