By Richard Clarke
Pascal Cygan and Thierry Henry were exactly 181 goals apart in Arsenal’s scoring charts before Wednesday night’s Premiership clash against Fulham but they shared the spoils as Arsène Wenger’s side came from behind to secure a morale-boosting victory.
After Lauren had missed a penalty, Claus Jensen’s exquisite chip gave the visitors a shock lead midway though the half. But Cygan nodded in Dennis Bergkamp’s free-kick from close range to level before the break and Henry struck twice to secure the victory.
Quite incredibly, Cygan cracked home another in the dying seconds and the big French centre half left the pitch with the crowd singing his name.
It was a great end to an entertaining match and the perfect antidote to Sunday’s loss at Stamford Bridge.
Wenger’s major reaction to the Chelsea defeat was to bring in Cygan for Philippe Senderos. Jose Antonio Reyes, who had not been included at all on Sunday, started on the left side of midfield. That pushed Robert Pires down to the bench.
Freddie Ljungberg had hurt his knee clattering into advertising boards at Chelsea and will be out for “a few days” according to his manager. His absence meant Bergkamp returned and took his place up front alongside Henry.
The Frenchman nearly put Arsenal ahead after only 90 seconds. Reyes burst forward and prodded a pass into the path of Ashley Cole. He sidefooted a pass across the face of goal and Henry, sliding in on a pitch made slippery by persistent pre-match rain, was inches away from touching home the opener.
Arsenal should have made amends seven minutes later. Alexander Hleb threaded an intelligent ball through for Henry, who brushed off the ball by Zat Knight. Referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot and, as usual when the Frenchman is fouled, Lauren stepped up to take it.
The right back had never missed a penalty before tonight and was rightly proud of that record with club and country. However this time Tony Warner guessed correctly and dived to his right to palm the ball away.
Despite the miss, Arsenal were still clearly the better side. In the 13th minute, Reyes found Bergkamp with another incisive pass in the gap between the centre back and right back. The Dutchman spurned the opportunity to find Henry at the far post. Instead he rolled it back for the onrushing Fabregas. The Spaniard met it with a fast, rising drive. Warner did well to tip the ball over. Henry then sent the corner to the far post and Cygan put his header into the sidenetting.
A goal seemed inevitable, the only problem was overelaboration in a Fulham penalty area that was crowded with Arsenal players.
Then, in the 22nd minute, it all changed.
Kolo Toure scuffed a cross from Tomasz Radzinski into the path of Jensen and the Dane sent a superb, curling effort arcing over Jens Lehmann and into the far corner.
Arsenal responded by peppering Tony Warner with shots. The former Millwall keeper, an emergency signing because of two injuries, was starting to look ominously assured on the slippery surface.
Moritz Volz nearly added to Arsenal’s woe when Lehmann was forced to hastily tip over his drive. Reyes dribbled into the area to fire wide as the home side continued to be frustrated but then, just as the Highbury fans were starting to think it might not be their night, Cygan popped up with the unlikeliest of equaliser.
Bergkamp curled over a free-kick from the left and the big French centre back beat a posse of players to the ball and steered home a stooping header. It was only his second goal in his 80th appearance for the Club.
Arsenal continued to push for another before the break but Brian McBride came closest when he rifled a shot over the bar following a quick break by the visitors.
It was becoming a fast, open game and that continued after the interval. Bergkamp thumped wide and Hleb sent a swivelling shot wide. At the other end McBride nearly profited at the far post.
Eight minutes in, Arsenal finally got the goal they deserved. Hleb fed Reyes and the Spaniard sent a lofted pass to Henry who controlled it and drilled a shot past Warner.
However Fulham were not a spent force. Lehmann thrust out a hand to stop McBride’s effort creeping into the top corner. The German then rushed out to foil Papa Bouba Diop at the near post.
As the game drew to its conclusion, Arsenal seemed to have wrested control. Gilberto and Reyes went close then, in the 80th minute, Henry fizzed a shot across the face of goal.
Two minutes later, the Frenchman went one better. Fabregas prodded him clear and the striker lifted the ball over Warner and into the net. It was goal No 184 of Henry's Arsenal career. He is now one strike away from equalling Ian Wright’s record at the Club.
Finally, the points were secure but Cygan cracked home a left-footed shot seconds from the final whistle just to make sure.
He deserved a break as much as Arsenal deserved the points.
- Lauren Yellow Card
- Cygan Goal! Goal!
- Cole Yellow Card
- Hleb 86
- Bergkamp Yellow Card
- Henry Goal! Goal!
- Reyes 79 Yellow Card
- Clichy 86
- Flamini 79 Yellow Card
- Rehman Yellow Card
- Morte Yellow Card
- Jensen Goal!
- McBride 63
- John 63