For the opener Edu slid a ball forward to Pires who, whilst still quite deep, hit a diagonal cross to Freddie on the right. Ljungberg cut inside and played a one-two with Henry before he slipped in a tasty cross across the face of goal for Rob to nab his 50th. goal for Arsenal. 1-0 and although not quite as quick as Chelski, it was a really fabulous start. The flowing stuff must have made Charlton feel giddy because in the opening half-hour we shredded them.
Our second came when a line ball from Pires found Vieira on a timed run down the left and with his first touch he hit a low cross which saw Thierry control it with his right and clip it home with his left. 2-0 Arsenal and the football that followed was just as good. Edu had kept his place, Dennis was back to start as was Ashley Cole. Cole fired in a great cross, he then had a shot blocked, Freddie almost got Lauren through. Pires hit a diagonal ball to Thierry who found Dennis inside who chipped onto the roof of the net. The movement was tremendous, the passing instant and the effect was beautiful to watch. We were absolutely creaming Charlton. Not only this, but on the rare Charlton counters our forwards were steaming back to make sure nothing untoward could happen, as when Freddie flew back to beat Hreidarsson.
We looked five yards faster all over the pitch and when you consider that European away games are often followed up with a limp domestic performance our approach was seriously encouraging. The slick, quick passing continued, I’ve no idea who flicked which ball to whom, because you’d need the slow motion action replays to break our moves down. We were spellbinding. Dennis bent one into the keeper. Henry held off his man and laid it off for Edu to clip a scudding shot just wide from range. It was all ooohs, aaahs and approving thunderous applause as we continued to rip through Charlton who were working their rocks off but merely chasing shadows.
We were in the groove and this was fantasy football. Dennis had a shot deflected for a corner. Another Bergkamp shot was headed away for another corner as the men in yellow were pegged back deep. There was always someone available to take the pass and always someone on the move. Charlton’s first effort came from Di Canio who shot past Lehmann’s near post from a Jensen cross. This may sound strange but Campbell broke up a move by trapping a ball that was up around his ear, the move that followed saw us fast forward to the other end saw Edu blast one over.
Freddie cut inside from the right and let rip with left foot shot that was tipped over by Kiely. Kiely saved from a Vieira shot on the run but then threw the ball straight into touch. Henry had a left-footed shot go wide. One loose ball from Sol to Cole was the only error after half an hour’s rip-roaring play. Pires shot over following another slick move. Dennis made Kishishev look pretty dumb. Charlton had a half-chance when Jensen tried to chip Jens from distance, Jens being off his line at the time. The game was pretty clean with only a few free kicks as when Holland shoved Dennis in the back. There was a two-minute Charlton spell before we took over again.
Pires headed clear but the ball back in was hacked wide by Stuart. Charlton had no time to dwell on anything as we were up and at them all over the pitch. A great shot by Henry was caught low by Kiely to his right. Henry hit a cross just too high for Dennis but it won our umpteenth corner. Dennis was back to stop Di Canio on a break to thunderous applause. Vieira stopped their next break before Jensen hacked down Bergkamp in a manner that suggested he just couldn’t keep up. Henry allowed Edu to take the free kick and he fizzed it just wide. A seriously impressive half ended 2-0 and they were very lucky to get nil!
As Arsenal kicked towards the North stand in the second half Holland’s shove on Pat won the first free kick of the half. A slick move ended with Freddie being upended but we were not quite as emphatic after the break. Cole continued to race forward. Pat hit in a cross for Dennis to knock home but the whistle had gone. Lehmann saw some action, Thierry put Dennis through but he was offside. Di Canio crossed for Hreidarsson but he aimed at the corner flag. Cole took no chances and conceded a corner when Carlton Cole was almost through. The second half was more of a match than the first. A Young block on Henry was given as a goal kick by Mr. Barber. An even worse decision followed when Di Canio went on great little mazy run but ended in a blind alley full of Arsenal shirts. So Di Canio did what Di Canio does best, he hit the deck. Barber obliged him with a joke free kick.
It wasn’t funny though because Jensen hit the perfect curling dipper just inside Lehmann’s far post. 2-1 game on with thirty minutes to play. We were never in total control from this point on, we had our moments but so too did Charlton. Henry got through thanks to a Pires ball, but his one-on-one against Kiely saw the keeper save with his feet. Freddie then won a free kick with a determined run just to the right of their box. Dennis hit it in and Pat powered his header wide of the post, it looked to be a sitter. Cole broke as Edu hit a peachy pass. Hreidarsson knocked over Pat, no easy feat, but Henry’s free kick taken from a central position from distance was tipped around the keeper’s near post.
Reyes' run and shot was low and just wide. Carlton Cole finally beat Campbell for once but Stuart's cross was naff. Lehmann tipped one away from another cross in from their right and Pires hacked clear. Jensen fired wide with a half chance taken early. Edu was still battling well as Pires was replaced by Cygan who went to left back with Cole going further forward. Stuart lost his rag and fouled Campbell. We had three minutes of added time to endure. Jens needed to catch a high ball. As the snow began to fall we had a major let off. Charlton hit the inside of the post with an overhead shot form Johansson and the ball shot across the face of Jen's goal. One more serious break for Arsenal when Cole and Henry combined at speed to set up a headed chance for Gilberto at the far post which he nodded just wide.
Henry took the ball into the corner to play out time and ensure three points. It could have been a slaughter, but in the end we were hanging on. Charlton still have to play United and will certainly give them a serious run out. Better luck with that one Mr. Curbishley. Incidentley the Charlton manager pointed out that Pires' goal was offside, which he was by about half a yard if you study the replays but that's the way it goes, and if Lauren's tackle on the vertically challenged Italian was a foul (the one that lead to their goal) then I am a Scottish blue nosed manager who thinks Roy Keane is not the sort of person to hurt anyone.
Charlton were unlucky, but Arsenal could equally have had six goals if luck had run our way. At the end of the day all that counts is another vital and deserved three points. Eleven games to go and nine points clear - I'm saying nothing.