LONDON: Weakened Arsenal, without Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira, strengthened their grip on the Premiership here yesterday after defeating equally in-form Charlton Athletic 2-0 to end their opponents' five-match winning streak.
First-half goals from Francis Jeffers and Frenchman Robert Pires, his 10th of the season, saw Arsenal safely home to extend their lead over Manchester United and Newcastle United to eight points, though both of them have a match in hand but vastly inferior goal difference.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said it was a huge result in beating the team who going into the match were the hottest form side along with them in the Premiership having taken 34 points from their last 48.
“Today is a big step for us,” the Frenchman said. “But of course there is a long way to go still and a lot to do.”
Thierry Henry had the first clear chance on goal in the 15th minute when an error by South African international Mark Fish let him in but he mishit the ball and it cannoned back off the near post with Dean Kiely beaten.
Pires went closer 10 minutes after as his shot squirmed through the defence but the Ireland keeper beat away the 29-year-old's effort.
However the record was set straight two minutes later as Jeffers struck in the 26th minute. Edu fed Henry, whose pass across goal Fish fatally failed to intercept and the 22-year-old former Everton star tapped the ball into the net for his second Premiership goal of the season.
His goal stung Charlton into action and Kevin Lisbie held his head in his hands in frustration as his smartly-taken shot from just outside the area was turned round the post by David Seaman.
Arsenal, though, showed why they are the leaders of the Premiership in turning round pressure into a goal right on half-time as Edu, deep inside his own half, fed Henry whose electric pace burnt off the pursuing Charlton defence.
However his pass into the penalty area rebounded rather fortunately off two Charlton defenders into Freddie Ljungberg's path but the Swede's shot hit the post, and rebounded to Pires who nodded into an empty net for his 10th Premiership goal of the season.
Charlton refused to lie down in the second-half and Fish almost redeemed his poor first half performance when his near post header from Claus Jensen's corner just flashed wide in the 54th minute.
Jeffers should have made it 3-0 as Edu's shot was palmed into his path but showing an extraordinary lack of urgency and, with just the net to tap the ball into, he was dispossessed on the line by Luke Young. – AFP