By Richard Clarke
Still top, still scoring and still setting records.
Arsenal ground out a deserved 3-1 victory at Molineux this afternoon. Although never easy, they were well worthy of a victory that maintains their two-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
Dennis Bergkamp fired the visitors ahead in the ninth minute but Vio Ganea equalised midway through the half and, at the break, this was an even-money contest. But Arsenal raised their game after the restart and, by the 63rd minute, had taken the game away from Wolves through goals from Thierry Henry and Kolo Toure.
Also, having remained unbeaten for this, their 24th game since the start of the season, they broke a club record set in 1990-91 by George Graham's side.
In his pre-match press conference, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger played down the importance of such landmarks. The primary aim, he argued, is to win trophies. Given that Wolves were unbeaten in their last eight Premiership games at home before today, this result sends out a clear message that matters are in hand.
Having shuffled his squad for Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final at Middlesbrough on Tuesday, Wenger reverted to his usual Premiership line-up this afternoon.
However, since the victory over Manchester City last Sunday, Freddie Ljungberg had injured his ribs and Jose Antonio Reyes had gone down with a mouth infection. Edu came in to central midfield for the former, pushing Gilberto onto the right flank, while the latter began on the bench.
Captain Patrick Vieira was back after suspension but Sylvain Wiltord (ankle) and Jeremie Aliadiere (knee) were absent. Both strikers are still a couple of weeks away from returning to the squad.
It was a cold, crisp afternoon in the Black Country. Many Arsenal fans had taken redundant overcoats to the Riverside on Tuesday, but this was February alright.
An abundance of spirit and sweat has underpinned Wolves' recent revival so, not surprisingly, they began this game with gusto.
In fact when Arsenal took the lead it was the first time they had entered the Wolves' half with any intent. In the ninth minute Edu's pass found Ashley Cole flying up the left, he fed Bergkamp whose shot drifted away from Paul Jones' outstretched left-hand and curled just inside the post. It was the Dutch striker's fourth of the season.
It was nearly two shortly afterwards when Henry's pot-shot from the left-flank forced Jones to tip aside. Gilberto collected on the far side but sent his effort bobbling wide.
Despite their bluster, Wolves' first real sight of goal came in the 23 minutes when Denis Irwin curled a free-kick just wide of Jens Lehmann's right-hand post.
However the German was picking the ball out of the net three minutes later. Colin Cameron sent a corner to the far post, Jody Craddock nodded down and Ganea stabbed home his second goal in three starts for the club.
Bergkamp forced the best out of Jones soon afterward but Carl Cort had an even better chance a few minutes later. However the former Wimbledon striker, who was beset by injuries during his time at Newcastle, showed a little rustiness and Lehmann snaffled the ball behind.
Wolves ended the half in the ascendancy and only a timely block from Campbell prevented Ganea adding a second after the Romanian striker was left in the clear eight yards out after Kenny Miller's lay off.
But, in an increasingly open game, Bergkamp nearly clipped Arsenal back in front just before the referee's whistle.
The attacking continued after the interval. Arsenal began well but Irwin curled another free-kick on to the roof of the net.
Wenger threw on Reyes for Bergkamp 10 minutes later. Within three minutes, Robert Pires put Henry through on the edge of the area and he steered his shot over the advancing keeper. It was his 16th of the Premiership season and his 99th in that competition overall. He tried to bring up the century almost immediately, his long-range drive thumped into the chest of Jones.
In the end, Arsenal's next goal came in the 63rd minute from a player who had only scored twice before in the Premiership. Pires sent a deep cross to the far post. Vieira, almost on the byline, nodded it back and Toure headed home from just two yards out.
For the first time since Bergkamp's opener, Molineux was silenced - except, of course, for the travelling Arsenal fans.
The visitors were now in control. Reyes and Henry broke in tandem but the Spaniard just failed to feed the Frenchman before Jones rushed out. Then Cole burst forward to fire a low shot just wide.
Arsenal did an effective job of killing the game after that. The kept the ball well and stretched Wolves through the pace of Reyes and Henry.
It was a good job done.
|Dennis Bergkamp slices a shot at goal...||..and sees it fly past Jones in the Wolves goal|
|Thierry Henry makes it 2-0||..and celebrates his strike|
|Vieira holds off Kennedy||Kolo Toure wraps up the points with a close range header|
|Thierry Henry nets his 99th League goal|
BUY THIS PICTURE
|Kolo Toure celebrates with Sol Campbell|
BUY THIS PICTURE
© Arsenal Broadband Limited 2004