Post-Match Report

Charlton Athletic 0-1 Arsenal - Match Report

Charlton -

The Valley
Barclays Premier League
Barclays Premier League
0 1

After four and a half hours without a Premiership strike and three straight league defeats, there were no prizes for guessing what Arsene Wenger wanted for Christmas - at least one goal, and three points.

He got his wish as Jose Antonio Reyes struck 13 minutes into the second half to get the Gunners back on track after a trying month. The Spaniard returned from a thigh injury to take his place in the starting line-up and tucked away the rebound from close range after Thierry Henry had seen one shot blocked and another saved.

Charlton posed a sporadic threat, notably from crosses, but their resistance all but ended when Danny Murphy was sent off 19 minutes from time. After that, Arsenal could easily have boosted their goal difference but spurned a number of chances.

With Chelsea still so far ahead at the top, the title is almost certainly lost as far as the Gunners are concerned. Nonetheless, this was a big step towards the more realistic prospect of Champions League qualification.

Having seen a young side navigate a rocky path into the Carling Cup Semi-Finals in midweek, Wenger turned to more experienced faces for this Boxing Day trip across London.

There were eight changes from the team which started at Doncaster and, perhaps more significantly, three changes from the side which lined up against Chelsea last weekend.

Philippe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini dropped to the bench and Robin van Persie's knee injury ruled him out. In came Pascal Cygan, Gilberto and Reyes.

Wenger deployed a 4-5-1 formation with Alexander Hleb adding ballast in the centre while Ljungberg and Reyes patrolled the flanks in support of Thierry Henry, who was passed fit to make his 200th Premiership start after concern over his Achilles.

With more bodies in midfield, Arsenal enjoyed plenty of possession early on. But with Henry dropping off and no definitive centre forward, much depended on the midfield's ability to make runs beyond Charlton's rearguard.

Gilberto fired in a speculative effort from 30 yards but, before long, the hosts got themselves into the game. Their approach was rather different, relying on the strength and pace of Darren Bent and accuracy from crosses.

The Addicks' plan was clearly to exploit Cygan's lack of experience at left-back and they had some joy down that flank as Murphy's clever pass released Bent. Jens Lehmann showed quick reactions to race out and clear.

At the other end, Ljungberg's persistence nearly forced a breakthrough. The Swede harried Herman Hreidarsson into a mistake and crossed low from the right. Henry, racing in from the left, looked like reaching the pass but opted to check his run instead of anticipating where the ball might go. The chance went begging.

Charlton continued to test the Gunners back four with pacy crosses into the box but created little in the way of clear-cut opportunities. The same could not be said of the visitors.

With 22 minutes on the clock, a quicksilver passing move between Hleb and Henry released Reyes down the left. He found Ljungberg in acres of space in the centre. The Swede scored twice here last season but, this time, he dithered and eventually shot straight at Thomas Myhre. It perhaps betrayed a lack of confidence as much as anything.

Gone was a wonderful chance and the fear was that Arsenal would be made to pay for it. Fortunately, they stood firm with Sol Campbell back to his best at centre back.

The England defender's rejuvenation was summed up shortly before the break. Bartlett played in Bent and, with two yards advantage on Campbell, the striker looked odds-on to score. He didn't. Campbell made up the ground and slid in to execute a perfect challenge inside the box with Bent poised to pull the trigger.

Charlton's woes were almost compounded when Henry's free-kick skimmed the top of the crossbar just before the half-time whistle, and the home side were soon under more pressure at the start of the second period.

Reyes danced inside a challenge and attempted to cut the ball back to Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard was tackled but Henry collected the loose ball and let fly. Only a desperate block saved Charlton.

Arsenal grew in confidence. Lauren bamboozled Bent on the right and, after his cross was half-cleared, Henry saw another shot deflected away for a corner. The visitors were getting closer and finally broke the deadlock after 58 minutes.

The excellent Campbell picked out Ljungberg on the right and he cut inside before cleverly finding Henry inside the box. The captain's first shot was blocked, his second attempt ballooned up into the air off Myhre and landed perfectly for Reyes, who found the net with his weaker right foot to end Arsenal's Premiership goal drought after five hours and 28 minutes.

Charlton - out of form after seven defeats in eight games - struggled to find a way back. Their task was made all the harder with 19 minutes left when Murphy earned a second yellow card for dissent.

The dismissal tilted the scales further in Arsenal's favour and they could easily have added to their lead. Substitute Robert Pires was denied by Myhre, Ljungberg was thwarted by a last-ditch tackle and Henry's free-kick was well saved.

In the end, one was enough.

Referee: Steve Bennett
Attendance: 27111