By Richard Clarke
William Gallas signed for Arsenal at the 11th hour on transfer deadline day to fill a vital hole in Arsène Wenger's squad and the Frenchman showed impeccable timing once again at Emirates Stadium on Saturday with the crucial first goal against Sheffield United.
It was another frustrating afternoon for the home side before Thierry Henry set up his countryman to volley home the opener in the 64th minute. It broke the visitors' stubborn resistance and, it seemed, turned fortune against them.
Four minutes later, Phil Jagielka sliced Henry's cross into his own net and 10 minutes from time, the Frenchman headed home a simple third from Emmanuel Eboue's excellent cross.
In the end it was a cruise but, for an hour, it had been anything but. History will remember this game as Arsenal's first League victory at their new ground. More importantly for Wenger, his side are getting the game together and starting to climb the table.
This was their third highly-satisfying victory in succession.
Emirates Stadium was once again bathed in September sunlight before kick-off as Arsenal looked to build upon two terrific victories on the road.
Henry had missed the wins at Hamburg and Manchester United but returned this afternoon to join last Sunday's hero, Emmanuel Adebayor, in attack as the side reverted to 4-4-2. Alex Hleb dropped to the bench to accommodate the captain. Robin van Persie was fit after a hip injury but joined the Belrusian as a substitute.
Having drawn their first two Premiership matches, and indeed trailed in all three games at their new ground, there was an obvious desire to secure the comfort of an early goal.
In the fourth minute, Gallas swapped passes with Tomas Rosicky on the left but, from inside the area, the Frenchman fired wide.
Soon afterwards Freddie Ljungberg sent Sheffield United keeper Ian Bennett sprawling with a low shot from just outside the area.
Then Jagielka deflected a pass from Cesc Fabregas to Adebayor on the right of the area. The Togolese striker's dangerous cross was cut out at the near post.
It seemed an Arsenal goal was imminent and it should have arrived in the 14th minute.
From the right, Kolo Toure curled a wonderful cross to the far post. It was an invitation to score for the prowling Henry. His leap was high and his downward header was firm but Ian Bennett somehow got a touch to divert the ball wide.
Once again Arsenal had started well and were dominating the visitors at Emirates Stadium. The only problem was the scoreline.
Meanwhile Sheffield United were everything you'd expect them to be - tough and committed. Rob Hulse was their lone striker but his physical presence kept Toure and Johan Djourou employed.
The game got spicy in the build-up to half-time however Arsenal gave as good as they got in the battle for the midfield. Yet the goal did not come.
Toure thumped a vicious effort into the sidenetting within minutes of the restart. It was indicative of the urgency with which Arsenal now sought the lead. Surely they were not going to endure another tough draw at the Emirates Stadium despite utterly controlling the game?
Arsenal forced a succession of corners. From one, Bennett desperately tipped Ljungberg's header on to the bar. The Swede then sent a grubber shot into the arms of the keeper.
Hulse fired a pot-shot well wide of Lehmann. Mikele Leigertwood had actually hit the Arsenal net in the first half but referee Alan Wiley had blown well before for a foul. Therefore this tame shot was Sheffield United's closest legal effort in the game.
Finally, in the 64th minute, the goal arrived. On the edge of the area, Henry shovelled the ball over his marker, Fabregas stretched a leg to tip it on and Gallas lashed a volley high into the net.
The relief which spread around Emirates Stadium turned to comfortable satisfaction four minutes later when Henry's quick feet took him to the left-hand byline and his cross was diverted in by Jagielka.
For the first time in any game at their new ground, Arsenal had some breathing space and, in the 80th minute, Eboue's wonderful cross set up Henry to head the simplest of goals.
In injury time, Sheffield United forced their best chance. Rob Kozluk crossed for Steven Kabba to head goalward ad the far post. Jens Lehmann soiled his gloves for the first time this afternoon.
It was indication that Arsenal had been dominant at Emirates Stadium once again.
Only this time they had got the scoreline to match.
- Eboue Yellow Card
- Gallas Goal!
- Ljungberg 77
- Fabregas Yellow Card
- Rosicky 71
- Adebayor 71
- Henry Goal!
- Baptista 77
- Hleb 71
- Persie 71
- Sommeil 78
- Geary 78
- Hulse Yellow Card
- Kazim-Richards 88
- Kozluk 78
- Quinn 78
- Kabba 88