By Richard Clarke
Arsenal have gone top of the Premiership after Thierry Henry grabbed both goals in a 2-0 win at Aston Villa on Sunday.
The Frenchman cheekily sidefooted home a free-kick in the 28th minute while Villa were still preparing their wall.
Then, seven minutes after the break, Olof Mellberg fouled Kanu in the area and Henry slammed home a second from the spot.
It was due reward for a professional performance at one of the Premiership's in-form teams. And, with Manchester United surprisingly losing at Wolves on Saturday, this victory gives Arsène Wenger's side a two-point lead at the head of the table.
Before kick-off, Kolo Toure had recovered from the foot injury that kept him out of last Saturday's handsome 4-1 win over Middlesbrough but he only made the bench. Pascal Cygan and Lauren retained their places at centre half and right back despite the presence of the adaptable Ivory Coast international.
With Dennis Bergkamp (calf), Sylvain Wiltord (ankle) and Jeremie Aliadiere (knee) all injured, Arsene Wenger started with his only two fit first-team strikers - Kanu and Henry.
It was a fast, open game right from the kick-off. Villa had the lion's share of possession in the opening stages but Kanu was the first player to really threaten in the 11th minute when his cut back from the byline deflected off the legs of Mellberg and rebounded into the sidenetting.
Three minutes later Freddie Ljungberg fed the ball back to Pires just outside the corner of the Villa area. He put all his power into a volley. It sailed over Villa keeper Thomas Sorensen and looked like dipping under the bar before the big Dane thrust out a hand to tip it over.
The visitors were now starting to ease through the gears. Pires' low drive from 25 yards forced Sorensen to save again then a flowing move ended with Henry's goal-bound shot being blocked by an outstretched Villa foot.
But the home side responded. Juan Pablo Angel raced through and lifted shot over the bar as the Arsenal defence looked for offside. Then the Colombian crossed for Allback at the near post, The Swede controlled the ball, swivelled and sent his effort inches past the upright.
Then came the goal. Mellberg slipped as he tried to clear and the ball fell to Vieira. He strode forward but was fouled just outside the area straight in front of goal. A number of Arsenal players were milling around the ball and Villa were still sorting out their wall as referee Mark Halsey indicated the kick could be taken.
Henry spotted that Sorensen was out of position and calmly sidefooted the ball into the other side of the net. When the ball went in, there was a stunned silence and then a roar from the visiting supporters as Henry ran the length of the pitch to celebrate the strike.
Sorensen had to make a scrambling save from Henry a few minutes later but, apart from that, neither side threatened again before the break.
Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann was called into action three times in the opening five minutes of the second half. First he saved from Angel then the German rushed out to hack the ball clear of Allback. Finally he flew to his right as the Colombian striker fired a free-kick inches over the bar.
Inbetween those chances, Henry raced onto Vieira's pass and fired low into the chest of the diving Sorensen.
Another break in the 52nd minute saw Kanu receive the ball just outside the area. With typical trickery he slipped the ball past his marker and raced into the area before Mellberg blocked his path. It was a clear penalty and Henry beat Sorensen from the spot. It was the Frenchman's 20th goal of the season and his 15th in the Premiership.
After that goal, Villa began to make the running - they had to. Gareth Barry nudged a header narrowly over the bar and Thomas Hitzlsperger had a dig from distance.
Wenger made triple substitution in the final stages, including striker Kanu. It smacked of lead retention.
One of the substitutes, Ray Parlour, let fly from distance a couple of minutes after coming on. His drive from 25 yards flew inches over the angle of bar and post. Toure, playing up front, forced a save from Sorensen at the death.
But, by then, Arsenal were happy with what they had.
|Henry's quick thinking puts us 1-0 up||Thierry turns to celebrate...|
|..and is mobbed by his team mates||Jens Lehmann thanks our scorer|
|Henry fires his penalty to Sorensen's left||..and sees it hit the net|
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