By Richard Clarke
Thierry Henry clipped home a cool penalty with 11 minutes left to finally put paid to Newcastle's challenge in a dramatic, see-sawing Friday night feast at Highbury.
The home side looked to likely to steamroller Sir Bobby Robson's struggling side when Henry put them ahead in the 18th minute. But, seconds after Patrick Vieira limped off, Laurent Robert levelled and the visitors more than held their own before the break.
Another injury saw Cole follow Vieira down the tunnel five minutes after restart. Gilberto's powerful header then put Arsenal ahead once more but Olivier Bernard's cracking strike levelled matters again.
By this time, Ljungberg, who had been fouled for the free-kick that provided Arsenal's second goal, was a limping passenger as Wenger had already used all his substitutes.
But a needless handball from Jermaine Jenas gave Henry the chance to win it. He chipped his spot kick over Given and, finally, Arsenal had secured the three points.
It puts Arsenal, for the time being at least, four points clear at the top of the Premiership.
Before kick-off, Arsène Wenger stuck mainly with the side that had taken a point from Old Trafford last Sunday. The only change was enforced. Dennis Bergkamp got a kick on his fibula in that game and so Sylvain Wiltord came in up front. It was the Frenchman's 100th Premiership appearance for the club. He is also two away from a half-century of goals in all competitions.
It was a pleasure to get back to the football and with barely a minute played, Arsenal may have gone ahead. Henry tucked a clever ball inside to Ashley Cole, who was on one of his marauding runs from defence. The defender managed to prod a shot towards the far post but Newcastle keeper Shay Given flicked the ball clear of both the goal and the onrushing Wiltord.
Six minutes later, the Frenchman reached the byline and cut the ball back for Henry, whose near-post stab was smothered by Given. It was all Arsenal.
Light rain began to fall. It made the surface perfect for Arsenal's slick, slippery brand of football. They took advantage. Given flung himself full-length to stop Henry's drive, Parlour nodded the ball back for Wiltord scuff a shot goalwards. The opener seemed to be coming... and then it did.
Lauren crossed from the right, Titus Bramble took an air-shot in attempting to clear and Henry raced in to score with Given struggling to regain his position.
Vieira limped off in the 25th minute with what appeared to be an injury to his thigh. Edu came on as a replacement.
Within a minute, Newcastle had levelled. Alan Shearer and Lee Bowyer began a move on the right that ended with Kieron Dyer sliding in a low cross from byline and Robert arrived ahead of two Arsenal defenders to hook the ball home from six yards out. Given Arsenal's dominance thus far it was a sucker-punch.
Newcastle showed confidence that belied their second-bottom position in the Premiership after that, especially when Olivier Bernard cut inside and Lehmann clung on well to his skidding shot.
Wiltord's miskick wasted Gilberto's great run into the area just before the break. Just after it, Ljungberg was equally profligate. Wiltord sent him clear and the Swede lifted his shot over Given but it bounced back off the upright.
A minute later, Arsenal had to re-organise again because of an injury. Cole had been limping before the interval. He was replaced by Pascal Cygan for his first appearance of the season. The Frenchman filled Cole's left back position; a difficult job given Dyer's sprightly display in the first half.
With 28 minutes left, Wenger made his first unforced change - Robert Pires for Parlour. It was needed because, in truth, Arsenal looked a little flat.
It was the new addition who swung over a free-kick from the right and Gilberto rose to thump home a header from six yards. It was a classic English centre forward's header - from a Brazilian midfielder that is.
Robert had given away the foul by felling Ljungberg. The Newcastle player was booked, the Arsenal player had to limp through the remainder of the game because Wenger had used all his subs.
The lead was to last four minutes. Dyer fed a clever ball into the path of Bernard, who had scurried into the area. The right back cracked it first time and it arrowed into the top left-hand corner of the net leaving Lehmann helpless.
At this point, an Arsenal winner seemed a long way away. Then, with 11 minutes left, Jenas inexplicably handled a floated corner and Henry displayed one of the coolest heads at Highbury to clip the ball over the keeper.
They held on with little alarm for a truly welcome win.
|Vieira tangles with Bramble||Henry stabs home our first from close range|
|Gilberto celebrates his headed goal||Thierry chips our late penalty...|
|..the ball floats over Given...||..and in!|
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