Vieira reclaims high ground

FA Premiership: A happier double brings back the smiles for Arsenal's embattled midfielder
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The Independent Football

At last an Arsenal match free of controversy and red cards, yet one that left an absorbed full house at Highbury with enough to talk about for the rest of the month. Subject to investigation by the Football Association's new advisory panel - can they overturn scorelines as well? - Arsÿne Wenger's team, whose discipline was almost impeccable, won a thrilling London derby against last season's First Division champions after twice being behind.

At last an Arsenal match free of controversy and red cards, yet one that left an absorbed full house at Highbury with enough to talk about for the rest of the month. Subject to investigation by the Football Association's new advisory panel - can they overturn scorelines as well? - Arsÿne Wenger's team, whose discipline was almost impeccable, won a thrilling London derby against last season's First Division champions after twice being behind.

Patrick Vieira, dismissed twice in three days against Sunderland and Liverpool, took advantage of the space allowed him by Charlton's midfield to become the force behind much of Arsenal's good work, and got far enough forward to score two of their goals, a distinction shared with Thierry Henry.

Yet the home side, watched by Sylvain Wiltord, whose transfer from Bordeaux for a club record fee of £13m, was confirmed before the game, were unsettled from time to time by Charlton's combination of neat passing and stubborn determination. Alan Curbishley felt those virtues might even have brought the reward of a point if his players had not been so drained by their efforts at attempting to contain Everton with 10 men before arriving home at four o'clock on Thursday morning.

The lesson they were reminded of, had anyone forgotten it from the club's previous adventure in the Premiership two years ago, was that the slightest slip at either end of the pitch can cost a high price. "I can't see anybody else scoring three here this year," Curbishley said. "We worked very hard and tried to play when we got the chance. Some of the football we played I was really pleased with, but Arsenal have so much pace and ability.''

Wenger, who like his midfielder Gilles Grimandi faces an FA charge, said of the exciting end to a chaotic week: "I'm pleased to win the game and by the performance of Patrick Vieira. He was exceptional and mentally his response was great. He had a little bit less aggression and there were fewer fouls on him.''

A routine trip on the Frenchman (Vieira, not Wenger) by Mark Kinsella brought the afternoon's only yellow card, though the midfielder might have collected one from a letter-of-the-law referee for removing his shirt in delight at opening the scoring. That was in the 19th minute and came as a logical conclusion to what had gone before.

Dean Kiely, the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper, had three times been forced to make saves worthy of his international status as the team-mates in front of him began surprisingly nervously. First he foiled Nwankwo Kanu, sent away by Robert Pires, who had been presented with possession by Chris Powell. Kanu's bewitching dummy and shot required a push round the post and finally Kiely dived to save with a foot as Pires went clear following a wall-pass with Henry.

Within 60 seconds, Charlton's wall, which seemed to be missing the odd brick, was breached. Kanu beat Carl Tiler - something of an unfair contest - and sent in Vieira for a twitch of the feet and a flick over Kiely. The Frenchman, who had thrown down his shirt in disgust after being sent off five days earlier, pulled it over his head in celebration this time as he raced almost into the crowd.

Those supporters were stunned by the turn of events over the next 10 minutes. Charlton suddenly began passing the ball in more familiar fashion and soon the Bulgarian right-back Radostin Kishishev, an inveterate adventurer, charged down the line. The coltish young Kevin Lisbie attempted to nudge on his cross, but Andy Hunt swept in to finish more decisively.

David Seaman fielded a low drive from John Robinson after a four-man move, only to be beaten again shortly afterwards. He left Robinson's cross from the left for Tony Adams or Silvinho to deal with, but the hugely improved Hunt, such a confident figure these days, outjumped the Brazilian at the far post to glance in his third goal in two games.

The surprises were by no means over. Forty seconds into the second half, the home players and crowd roused themselves with a spectacular goal by Henry, collecting Adams' pass, flicking it on to his thigh and volleying in from 25 yards.

Again Charlton responded, only to be pegged back and then overhauled. Lisbie broke down the left and Graham Stuart side-footed his centre smartly past Seaman. This time there were only three more minutes for the visitors from south of the Thames - where Woolwich Arsenal were once their close neighbours - to enjoy their lead: Vieira, given too much space to meet Kanu's cross 20 yards out, drove it precisely into a corner of the net.

Now it was Henry's turn again. Grimandi fed him from the right for the sharpest of finishes angled past Kiely. 4-3 and still almost 25 minutes to play. If Arsenal were largely in control for most of that period, they might still have been punished by the substitute Shaun Newton, who put a clear chance into the South Bank, or by Robinson's volley straight at Seaman. Then, with Charlton's legs finally giving out, Silvinho rounded off a wonderfully entertaining afternoon by sprinting 20 yards to drive in the final goal - only his second for the club.

Vieira will now be suspended for five matches stretching into the middle of next month, including critical ones against Chelsea and Manchester United. He should use this performance as a reminder of what he can achieve when his aggression is legitimately channelled.

Perhaps he will take his frustration out on England on Saturday; he and Henry should certainly enjoy themselves if Adams, Martin Keown and Seaman are as indecisive as yesterday, which was in the end the one blot on Wenger's otherwise redemptive day.

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