Arsenal 2 Charlton 0: Home win puts us eight points clear.

Last updated : 17 April 2003 By Brian Dawes

Jeffers and Henry celebrate the opening goal
But hopefully Alan Curbishley's deserved 'manager of the month' award would hang like a milestone around his neck by the end of the game. In recent contests at Highbury Charlton have frightened the life out of us and even slammed four goals past us in last season's fixture, whereas at The Valley we seem to have had total dominance.

Noon on a Sunday is yet another pain in the arse kick off time for fans to endure, but at least it didn't involve too much travelling this week, well at least not for Arsenal's local fans. Today's was a rather different looking Arsenal team with Vieira and Lauren suspended, Cole both injured and suspended, Luzhny still out, Dennis rested and Pennant back in the squad.

Toure and Gio started as full backs, Parlour and Edu started in central midfield and Freddie although clearly not back to full fitness started on the right while Jeffers joined Va Va Voom up front.

This was a fluid match with both teams playing their own brands of open attacking football, but with no evidence of Wheetabix defending from either. It took Freddie less than five minutes to go down in their box but there were no serious claims for a penalty. Considering the number of changes we looked slick and sharp from the off and were knocking it around nicely. The referee Mr Styles missed a number of handballs and was not overly bothered by a two footed tackle on Ray by Parker. Euell got in their first shot from a decent counter attack before Henry almost put in Jeffers. While Campbell was far too good for Lisbie at the other end.

Henry hit the post and then almost set up Rob for a header with a blinding touch that flicked the ball up and forward. Plenty of free kicks at either end as Styles seemed a tad whistle happy. One of ours saw Gio hit a brilliant cross field ball to Franny. Jensen blasted over from a free kick into the Northbank and Gio then just failed to clear their wall after Parlour had been chopped in full flow. Freddie hit in his best cross which set up some pressure and Pires almost capitalised. With about twenty five minutes played Rob appeared to be felled but play went on, Edu found Thierry on the left and he cut in, had a short run then fired across a low cross with the outside of his right foot and Franny who had pulled off the shoulder of his man rapped it home from inside the six yard box. Fast, slick and decisive. 1-0 Arsenal and a bright sunny Sunday got sunnier, although there was no time for us to lounge around in deck chairs.

From here on we never totally dominated because Charlton fought for every ball and made good use of it when they got it but I shouldn't think there was an Arsenal player or fan that had any doubt about the end result. In fact Charlton hit back almost instantly and Seaman was given one his few jobs of the day when he dived brilliantly, low and to his right, to keep out a fierce shot from Lisbie. We in turn broke fast and had players steaming forward and then queuing up for Jeffers cross. Jeffers, Ljungberg and Henry combined well and it has to be said that Thierry and Franny compliment each other well and read each others game equally well considering how little they've played together. Henry however got a bit silly and retaliated after a tackle he didn't like and promptly earned the only yellow card of the match.

Chris Powell does his best to keep Henry off the ball
Parker then resorted to play-acting to earn a free kick after Henry beat him well in the air. Euell had a header easily saved by Dave. Henry on a run, Ray with a cross and Rob taken out were all part of our attacking game. A long range shot from Edu kept low enough but just drifted wide. Kishishev had gone over the top on Sol before we went forward and Ray almost caught the keeper napping with a long low shot that needed a good save. We were pressing well while they were back in numbers. Keown looked the part as he strode forward in the playmaker role on one occasion. Henry fed Kolo who unleashed a shot from a ridiculously narrow angle. Lino cock up of the day came when Gio blasted the ball at Parker and it cannoned off for a throw but the throw was given to Charlton.

We nabbed our second just before half time in a move that started very deep and involved a cavalry charge up field. Rob to Edu deep and then swept on for Thierry as they charged forward with Freddie, Rob, Franny and Ray all pounding forward. Henry ran it then hit it in, it deflected off at least one defender who played Freddie onside, his touch hit the post, bounced up and Pires nodded it home from point blank range. 2-0 Arsenal and although it had an element of luck about it there was the fabulous sight of four players all charging into their box to get on the end of whatever was on. The half time whistle was blown soon after.

Lisbie fell forward after Martin had cleanly beaten him to the ball but a free kick was given that Dave saved from Jensen who took most of their dead ball plays. Watching Thierry right now is worth the admission price and one such moment came in front of the West stand when Gio slightly over-hit the ball but Henry puffed out his cheeks, switched on his after-burners and might have got their but the keeper was out well. His touch is sometimes unreal, his acceleration like nothing I've ever seen on a football pitch and it wouldn't surprise me to see him running for France in the next Olympic Games, thus missing yet another summer break.

Dave was a spectator but he did throw one brilliantly directed ball down the line for Rob in a move that climaxed with another shot from Henry. Laugh of the game was when Fish headed a near post header into the side netting. Their fans thought they'd scored and all leaped up in unison. After this the Clock End took the piss with a whole load of them leaping out of their seats and cheering, mimicking the Charlton fans. A good natured piss take of the highest order. Once more Arsenal were breaking with five players streaming forward. A Henry run ended with free kick that was beautifully hit in by Gio. Ashley may be a better player going forward but Gio's place kicks are the biz. Johansson on for Bartlett.

Henry's best run saw him leave their right flank for dead as he went down the touchline then down the goal line as he loves to do. Very few players can do this while controlling the ball with their right foot and it should be even more fun as his left foot still continues to improve. Anyhow on this occasion he laid it on a plate for Rob who shot wide. Great move though. Edu had a fine medium range one-two with Gio. Then Sol charged forward on a run like the proverbial runaway train and as the crowd screamed for a shot he wellied it high into the Northbank to rapturous applause and great beaming grins all round. Party time is becoming a 90 minute affair at Highbury for most games.

Runs from Toure who is loath to maintain his nominal full back position, Pires and Jeffers interplay on the right followed. The very knackered Freddie was replaced by Sylvain not long before Gilberto replaced Pires, with Edu moving wide left. Gilberto found Henry central almost immediately and he spun right before fizzing in a shot just past the far post. Charlton got a bit of a foothold and continued to play football as Arsenal tired and Arsene looked a tad anxious when Gio took a knock.

Freddie is substituted, and gets a standing ovation
Kolo and Henry combined well on our right. Wiltord and Jeffers caused problems in their box and we were still creating chances. None better than when Jeffers appeared to only need the slightest of touches to score but Young got back to wrap a leg around him and clear almost off the line. Edu headed over Ray's cross before the injured Powell was replaced by Konchesky. Lisbie obviously enjoyed lying on the wonderful Highbury turf and won another dubious free kick against Kolo. Parker chopped Ray twice from behind in quick succession but no booking followed, he'd already done more than enough previously for my money to get a card but I'd rather see fewer than more cards so can't complain too much. Well I can actually, I can say what the hell I like - so he should have been booked.

Henry and Wiltord combined to win our umpteenth corner. Parlour of all people did a fine job playing keep ball near the corner flag before winning another corner. We won yet another with Gio's deflected shot. Jeffers had a final chance saved and Wiltord was given offside as he followed up. Two minutes added time ended with another three points in the bag.

Eight points clear of the Barcodes and Manure while they still have to play one another. It's looking sweet and the football keeps getting sweeter. We'd just beaten the form team of the division without our full starting eleven and you couldn't see the joins. If we ever have a better squad than this I can't wait to be there to see it because we are already a class above the pack.