Henry lights up classy win
By Patrick Goss. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Arsenal showed that they have not yet forgotten the all-conquering form of their early season, destroying Crystal Palace 5-1 at Highbury in a display that sent out a stark reminder of the quality at the club.
First half goals from Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes and Thierry Henry shattered Palace's early resistance, and calmed the jitters that have haunted their recent games.
The second half saw Arsenal revel in an unconquerable lead - allowing Patrick Vieira to add a simple fourth, before Andy Johnson grabbed some measure of consolation from the penalty spot.
But it was Henry, in his 200th Premiership game that had the final word - wrapping up the scoring with a sublime fifth.
For the opening ten minutes, watching Manchester United fans must have felt that the second place was theirs for the taking, as The Gunners' nerves were once again on open display.
Jens Lehmann had shown his ability with a fine full-length save to deny Dougie Freedman's early snap shot, but the German then undermined himself when he took his eye off a Gael Clichy backpass, missing the ball entirely but racing back to stop it crossing his own line.
But, in Bergkamp and Henry - Highbury have two of the Premiership's most iconic players, and the duo's indisputable quality began to turn the game back in Arsenal's favour.
First Henry, looking determined to haul the side up by their bootlaces, turned and slammed a shot narrowly wide with Gabor Kiraly scrambling across his goal.
Then Bergkamp went one better, finishing a fine move that saw Edu pick out Reyes on the left, and the under-fire Spaniard fire in a low cross that the Dutchman slotted home at the near-post with a clinical tidiness that belied the narrow nature of his target.
Reyes has been lured into unwise comments about his desire to walk away from a season to forget, but his embarrassment appears to have manifested itself in the best possible way, and he soon added to his assist with a goal.
Not before Freedman wasted a wonderful chance to haul Palace level, however, volleying shockingly wide when picked out unmarked at the far post.
Reyes finally unlocked Arsenal's delightful flowing game, absent throughout much of 2005, when he added a settling second, firing a simply perfect strike across Kiraly from the edge of the box that left the Hungarian no chance despite the range.
The relief at Highbury was palpable as their heroes began to believe in themselves.
Kiraly saved superbly to deny defender Gonzalo Sorondo looping a Bergkamp cross into the top corner, and Fitz Hall blocked what looked a sure-fire Henry goal.
But the Frenchman did manage to get on the scoresheet soon after, conjuring the kind of shot that most strikers can only dream of, as Kiraly was again left clawing at thin air after the ball had whipped past him and thundered into the back of the net from the outer reaches of his penalty box.
Johnson was marginalised on his England debut, but he must have wondered if he was being played on the wing again with all the chances falling to partner Freedman - and it was the Scot who wasted a fine opportunity at the start of the second period, cantering through but failing to test Lehmann.
Henry orchestrated a fourth for Vieira soon after - his ball leaving Hall and Kiraly in disarray allowing the Arsenal skipper to delay his effort then tap into an empty net.
Bergkamp came inches away from grabbing number five, when he fired just wide after a flowing move that had been created by Reyes and Henry.
Johnson appeared to realise that the only way he could interrupt this display was to do it himself and he duly earned a penalty when his cut inside Kolo Toure was abruptly halted by the clumsy challenge of Vieira - getting up to fire emphatically home from the spot.
Henry was denied by an errant linesman's flag, whilst Robert Pires took his time after Reyes had sent him clear, but only managed to pick out the face of a post instead of adding to the score.
Highbury was baying for a fifth, and it was fitting that Henry should be the man to grab it - Bergkamp picking out the French genius, who dropped his shoulder to gain a yard and lazily fired the ball into the top corner.
Chelsea may well have already sealed the Premiership title this season, but for all their money, they do not have monopoly in class - and in Henry, Arsenal have a player worth a good percentage of Roman Abramovich's millions.
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Crystal Palace|
|3||1st Half Goals||0|
|9||Shots on Target||5|
|5||Shots off Target||3|
Barclays Premier League
|8||West Bromwich Albion||37||48|
|10||West Ham United||37||43|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||37||25|