Wenger's record-breakers show rare quality
Charlton Athletic 0 Arsenal 3
Monday 16 September 2002
Records are records, and Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, is justly proud of what they say about his current team's place in the history of a hugely distinguished club. But in his old age in Monaco or wherever – still studying football videos no doubt – he will look back with equal pleasure on the sheer quality displayed on occasions like the second half of Saturday's local derby down at The Valley.
Some of the statistics have been well-rehearsed: 45 Premiership games now since failing to score, 27 of them unbeaten, and 22 away games since a defeat. Others emerge with each passing week: Arsenal have not made a better start to the season, it transpires, since 1947. All those landmarks were effectively guaranteed by Thierry Henry's goal immediately before half-time, a blow from which Charlton, game but lightweight, were never fancied to recover; and the quality behind that move was the sort of memory that Wenger will take to his grave.
Patrick Vieira, such a burnt-out case that he only looked world-class for about 95 per cent of the afternoon, played Dennis Bergkamp into space down the right and, even with Richard Rufus in attendance, the Dutchman had the vision and ability to cut the ball back perfectly for Henry. The shot, low and just inside a post, would have beaten just about any goalkeeper on the planet. The sagging shoulders of Charlton's players as they left the pitch a minute later told their own tale, an echo of the visiting supporters' chant: "That's why we're the champions".
Their team provided further evidence, as if it was required, throughout the second half, stunningly swift and incisive attacking bringing goals for Sylvain Wiltord – unselfishly set up by the magnificent Vieira – and one of the substitutes, Edu; all this from a team still lacking last season's Footballer of the Year, Robert Pires, as well as Fredrik Ljungberg, Ray Parlour and Lauren.
They will be needed, of course, over the next few months, for tomorrow the second (and most important?) part of Arsenal's season begins with a return to the Champions' League, against Borussia Dortmund. Only once in four campaigns have they progressed as far as the quarter-finals, which has to be the minimum requirement for Wenger's team this time.
"We play a big game on Tuesday and now we'll go into it with the necessary confidence and belief," Wenger said. "The Champions' League is always difficult and we're not fooled. We'll be up for it and ready to fight. It's a good opportunity and I think that we are stronger than last year at the same period. But that's all in front of us."
In front of Charlton is a six-pointer at Southampton and then an attempt to claim a first home point against Manchester United, who follow Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea in a formidable list of early-season visitors.
Many of their supporters were upset by the recent sale of the captain, Mark Kinsella, to Aston Villa for £1m – inevitably followed by a crop of injuries – but the Charlton plc chairman, Richard Murray, insists the club will not gamble and risk the financial problems besetting relegated clubs like Bradford City, Coventry, Derby, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday. "Football is currently undergoing a massive reality check," he said. So are most teams who come up against Arsenal.
Goals: Henry (44) 0-1; Wiltord (66) 0-2; Edu (88) 0-3.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 6; Young 4, Rufus 7, Fortune 6, Powell 5; Robinson 4, Bart-Williams 4 (Kishishev 5, 73), Jensen 6, Johansson 6; Lisbie 6 (Blomqvist 4, 66), Euell 5 (Svensson 6, 73). Substitutes not used: Rachubka (gk), Fish.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman 6; Luzhny 5, Keown 5, Campbell 6, Cole 6; Touré 6 (Edu 7, 63), Vieira 9, Gilberto Silva 5, Wiltord 8 (Cygan, 85); Bergkamp 7 (Kanu 7, 70), Henry 8. Substitutes not used: Shaaban (gk), Jeffers.
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol) 5.
Bookings: Arsenal: Cole, Keown, Luzhny.
Man of the match: Vieira.
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