By Richard Clarke
A spectacular goal from Robin van Persie secured all three points for Arsenal at Charlton on Saturday.
With the scores at 1-1, the Dutchman raced on to Emmanuel Eboue's deep cross and, from the edge of the area, dispatched a fierce volley into the top corner of the net.
It was a goal worthy of winning any game but this rip-roaring encounter certainly deserved to be decided by such a superb effort.
Charlton had taken the lead in the 21st minute when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, looking suspiciously offside, set up Darren Bent to tap home at the far post. Arsenal were level 11 minutes later when the excellent Alex Hleb set up Van Persie to fire home a low shot.
His super second won the game but both sides could have added to their tally as the game flowed from end to end.
Arsenal held on for their fifth successive victory. Wenger's young side look like they are going places this season.
The Frenchman made one change from the side that had beaten Porto in midweek. Tomas Rosicky dropped to the bench and Freddie Ljungberg came in. William Gallas (hamstring) and Johan Djourou (foot) had picked up injuries in that game and it was feared both could miss today's match. In the end both were passed fitness tests on Saturday morning. The Frenchman was named in the starting XI, the Swiss youngster was on the bench.
The opening stages were sluggish. Arsenal were passing the ball around nicely but, in the opening 20 minutes, the best chances they could create fell to Fabregas. First he shot lamely at Scott Carson then he headed over the bar from six yards. In-between those chances Gallas slid in to deny Bent at the other end.
It took a controversial opening goal to light the game's fuse. Hasselbaink found space on the left and crossed low for Bent to convert a simple chance at the far post. Arsenal were incensed claiming that the Dutchman had been offside when he received the ball.
The goal gave the game some impetus at last. There was a spate of yellow cards, including Van Persie who was booked after tangling with Hasselbaink
Fortunately Arsenal turned the frustration in their favour. There was real bite in their attacks in the minutes that followed. Hleb and Fabregas combined for Henry to go close at the near post. Then Carson got a hand to the Spaniard's low shot and the ball rolled dangerous across the area before Charlton managed to clear.
The equaliser arrived in the 32nd minute. Hleb expertly juggled the ball near the byline before flicking it back to Van Persie on the edge of the area. His first touch controlled the ball and his second thumped a low shot past Carson. The leveller was utterly deserved.
Arsenal continued in that vein until half time. Helb set up Henry but the Frenchman's backheel went begging then Van Persie nearly squeezed a shot past Carson at the near post.
The Dutchman's incredible second goal three minutes into the second half seemed to break the Charlton hearts. As against Porto in midweek, Eboue sent over a deep cross to the edge of the area. It was met a full tilt by the flying Dutchman whose rocket shot flew past the bewildered Carson and high into the net. It was simply breathtaking.
A couple of minutes afterwards the England keeper was still shaking his head at the goal. But it was not his fault, no one could have stopped it.
Before the hour mark, Arsenal could have easily killed the game. Gilberto's low shot forced Carson into action then Hleb caught Jon Fortune napping and Henry shot straight at the keeper.
However Charlton were still showing signs of life. Hasselbaink set up Reid and the former Tottenham midfielder forced Lehmann to make a superb save at the near post. Then Herman Hreidarsson went close from the resulting corner.
Van Persie nearly turned in his hat-trick goal from Henry's cross. But Charlton had claims for a penalty after Gallas appeared to handle then, seconds later, Lehmann was troubled by Hasselbaink's low free-kick.
With 10 minutes left, the Dutch striker was guilty of a terrible miss. Bryan Hughes crossed from the right and Hasselbaink was one of three players unmarked at the far post. However he could only slide a header wide of the far post.
Fabregas, substitute Tomas Rosicky and Henry forced further fine saves out of Carson as Arsenal piled forward in the closing minutes. However they never managed to find that third goal.
In the end, two were enough.
- Toure Yellow Card
- Hoyte Yellow Card
- Hleb 90
- van Persie 77 Goal! Goal! Yellow Card
- Djourou 90
- Rosicky 77
- Julio Baptista
- El Karkouri
- Hreidarsson Yellow Card
- Faye 45
- Bent Goal!
- Hasselbaink Yellow Card
- Lisbie Yellow Card
- Kishishev 45 Yellow Card