By Richard Clarke

In 2002, Arsenal won the Double. Our defence of the Premiership crown received a major boost on the first day of 2003 after this dramatic 3-2 win over Chelsea.

Marcel Desailly's own goal gave us the early advantage. We then had the better of a high-tempo, high-quality affair before adding late goals gloriously from Gio van Bronckhorst and rather fortunately from Thierry Henry within two minutes.

Substitute Mario Stanic's immediate response seemed only a consolation but Arsenal old boy Emmanuel Petit struck again with four minutes left and Highbury was tense once more.

Still, the victory sees us eight points clear of Chelsea and five ahead of second-placed Manchester United, who came from behind to beat Sunderland with an injury-time winner from Paul Scholes.

The match began in the persistent rain that had already put paid to London's other Premiership games - at Fulham and Charlton. In the hour before kick-off, referee Uriah Rennie had also given the Highbury surface a couple of hard looks.

As for the team news, Arsène Wenger brought in Dennis Bergkamp for Kanu up front and Oleg Luzhny for Lauren at right back.

Chelsea had the first opportunity, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink cleverly feeding Enrique De Lucas on the edge of the area, but the Spanish midfielder's shot was well wide.

Both sides were struggling to cope with the conditions and perhaps our ninth-minute opener came about because of the slippery surface. Ashley Cole crossed from the left and Bergkamp attempted to side-foot home. He missed the ball and it cannoned off the trailing leg of his marker, Desailly, hit the pitch and bounced over the flailing Carlo Cudicini.

It was only the 12th goal Chelsea had conceded in their 12 Premiership away games. Before kick-off the Blues' defensive record on the road was as good as any in the top division.

At first the goal was credited to Bergkamp. But, on closer inspection, it became apparent our legendary Dutch striker remains on 99 goals for the club.

Claudio Ranieri's side began 2003 in second place and have shown themselves to be genuine title contenders so far this season. So it was no surprise when Graeme Le Saux forced a fine low save from David Seaman.

Our England keeper then had to scramble across quickly to prevent Hasselbaink pouncing on the follow-up.

The match was beginning to warm-up with Arsenal marginally the better side. Bergkamp scampered down the left and crossed but Sylvain Wiltord's swivelling shot was blocked at the near post.

Just after half-hour, the Frenchman flashed a shot just wide of Cudicini's left-hand post. Shortly afterwards Vieira burst through but spurned the opportunity to shoot, instead sending weak pass across the face of goal.

The second half began slowly. However we might have added to our lead seven minutes in when the ever-perceptive Bergkamp fed Henry on the left. Our top scorer was in full flight and muscled off William Gallas but his cut-back was just behind Gilberto, who had arrived at the far post, and our Brazilian scuffed his effort.

It was the chance that prised the game apart once more. Wiltord's shot was blocked by Gallas but Petit chipped tamely into Seaman's hand when he should have done better at the near post.

Henry was having a fascinating duel with Desailly. The defender won round one with a crunching tackle on the right-hand touchline just after the hour.

A few minutes latter, our striker levelled matters by cutting inside his compatriot and thumping a fierce shot that Cudicini batted away. Touché Thierry.

He edged ahead by sending another fizzer just over the angle of post and bar with 22 minutes left.

By that time, two of Henry's French team-mates, Wiltord and Robert Pires, had been withdrawn in favour of Lauren and Van Bronckhorst respectively. Ranieri, meanwhile, had bolstered his attack with Eidur Gujohnsen and Jesper Gronkjaer replacing Le Saux and De Lucas.

We forged ahead with nine minutes left when Henry slipped the ball to Van Bronckhorst, who thumped a low shot into corner of the net from outside the area.

Two minutes later Henry did it all himself. He raced clear, turned Gallas and his low shot somehow slipped under the hands of Cudicini. Highbury was alive.

Chelsea reduced the arrears with four minutes left. Petit swung over the corner, Hasselbaink headed back at the far post and Stanic nodded home.

Seconds later it was 3-2 when Seaman and Campbell collided and Petit thumped home the loose ball. It was game on again.

Chelsea poured forward and threw crosses into the Arsenal area but we deservedly held on.



Desailly clips Bergkamp's shot.....and the ball flies into his own netDennis celebrates our openerVan Bronckhorst cracks in number twoGio celebrates his wonderful strikeHenry thanks our Dutchman!Thierry puts us three upTwo of our scorers celebrateBergkamp's shot is deflected into the net by Marcel Desailly
BUY THIS PICTUREThierry Henry scores our third goal against Chelsea

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Richard Clarke 26 May 2004