By Chris Harris
Arsène Wenger wanted three points for Christmas and his wish was granted as Arsenal beat Wolves 3-0 in a game which emphasised the gulf in class between the top and bottom of the Premiership.
Jody Craddock opened the scoring with an own goal and Thierry Henry struck twice to send the Gunners back to the top of the Premiership, if only for a brief period.
The visitors are probably sick of the sight of Highbury. They were here 24 days ago for a Carling Cup tie and lost 5-1 against the cream of Arsenal's youth. It was men against boys, only the boys won.
With that in mind, as well as their sticky predicament at the foot of the League table, it didn't take a genius to work out that today would be another awesome test for Wolves.
Scrooge-like defending was the order of the day but poor Craddock was more Santa than Ebeneezer as he played a crucial role in Arsenal's first two goals.
The deadlock was broken after 13 minutes. Henry curled in a dangerous corner and Patrick Vieira's faint touch was helped over the line by Craddock.
Seven minutes later Vieira caught Craddock in possession and raced in on goal. The Arsenal captain cut inside the hapless Wolves defender and set up Henry, who made no mistake from 10 yards.
That was effectively game over but the home fans were treated to another Henry special when he jinked past his marker and slammed a shot into the corner in the final minute.
Wolves showed some zest, particularly in the second half, but were overrun in midfield and their manager Dave Jones will be the first to admit that the margin of victory could have been greater.
While Jones and his players brace themselves for a relegation scrap, Wenger can revel in the fact that Arsenal remain the only undefeated club in English professional football this season.
More importantly, he will be delighted that his team were not forced to over-exert themselves at the start of a run of three games in nine days. Southampton are next up on Monday night.
There was good news and bad news for the Arsenal manager before kick-off. Dennis Bergkamp was passed fit to play after shrugging off a calf injury but Gilberto went down with a bout of 'flu. Ray Parlour took his place in midfield.
Otherwise, Wenger picked the same XI which left Bolton with a 1-1 draw last weekend. It soon became clear that Arsenal would not face so stern a task today.
Henry had the first chance of the match. He collected a floated pass in the penalty area and his shot was heading for the roof of the net before Michael Oakes tipped the ball over his bar.
The Arsenal striker, on top form in the week he finished runner-up in the Ballon D'Or poll, turned creator shortly afterwards when his corner arrowed towards Pascal Cygan and Vieira. Henri Camara headed away in the nick of time for Wolves.
The Gunners looked in the groove and they took a deserved lead after 13 minutes. Henry's swerving free-kick was parried by Oakes and Craddock was alert enough to knock the rebound behind for a corner.
Craddock probably wishes he hadn't bothered. When the corner came across, Cygan just failed to get his head on it but Vieira got a faint touch with his outstretched leg. The ball cannoned off Craddock and floated over the line.
Now Arsenal turned on the style. Henry twisted, turned and bewildered the Wolves defence on the left, Gael Clichy curled in a dangerous cross and Freddie Ljungberg got ahead of his marker only to head wide.
The turf at the North Bank end, virtually redundant for most of the first half, finally saw some action as Camara intercepted a loose pass and sprinted down the right. He crossed low but Sol Campbell cleared the danger.
Soon all eyes were on the other end as Craddock's nightmare continued. He dawdled in possession and lost the ball to Vieira, who set up Henry for a second Arsenal goal.
Few would have begrudged Arsenal another couple of goals before the break. Kolo Toure burst into the box but was shouldered off the ball by Lee Naylor.
Henry skidded a long-range free-kick against the post and Bergkamp was denied by Oakes before another burst of acceleration and a low cross almost found Ljungberg.
Wolves had their moments, notably when Kenny Miller raced through on goal. If he'd scored the whole complexion of the match could have changed but Jens Lehmann scampered out and got a hand on Miller's shot.
Just before half-time Craddock had a clear sight of goal but shot woefully wide. It was that kind of day for the Wolves defender.
Arsenal took their foot off the gas in the second half. With their opponents at arms length they were able to conserve energy and play possession football.
Wolves, to their credit, refused to buckle and showed plenty of industry. But they never suggested they could retrieve a draw, with Mark Kennedy's blocked free-kick their best effort of the entire half.
In contrast, Arsenal could have added plenty to their tally. Bergkamp's clipped effort beat Oakes on the hour but floated just wide and Campbell fired over from 12 yards after a half-cleared corner.
Bergkamp stung Oakes' palms with a fierce effort, Edu's shot was charged down and last-ditch defending stopped substitute Jeremie Aliadiere from finding Henry in yards of space.
It seemed that the home fans would be denied another goal to celebrate, but Henry provided them with the best strike of the day with a minute to go.
|The ball his Craddock in the crowded area...||..and it is an own goal|
|Henry rounds off a great run by Vieira||His shot is past Oakes..|
|..and in for 2-0||Henry celebrates his goal|
|Thierry rounds off the match with our third||Henry hails his strike|
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