By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Kanu scored a fine hat-trick as Arsenal Legends beat Milan Glorie on a fantastic afternoon at Emirates Stadium.
The game - in aid of The Arsenal Foundation - saw a sell-out crowd treated to an exhibition of football as two star-studded sides rolled back the years in north London.
From Kanu’s hat-trick, to Ray Parlour’s brief cameo and Nigel Winterburn and Paolo Di Canio’s re-enactment of their 1998 ‘clash’, this had something for everyone.
Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg proved just as incisive as during their pomp, and the pair combined brilliantly for the former’s late goal that prompted the biggest cheer of the day.
Jens Lehmann saved a late penalty from Christian Vieri, but the former Italian international poked home the rebound for his second goal of the afternoon.
But it could not take the gloss off a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in north London that will live long in the memory.
SETTING THE SCENE
With the Premier League on an early international break, this match was a welcome opportunity to reminisce with a galaxy of stars from yesteryear.
Everywhere you looked there were famous faces, with three World Cup winners in the Arsenal team alone, in Robert Pires, Emmanuel Petit and Gilberto Silva.
One of the key selection dilemmas for Arsene Wenger was over the goalkeeping position, with David Seaman - at 52, the joint-oldest member of the home side - getting the nod over Jens Lehmann.
More perhaps would be expected of Kolo Toure, the only Arsenal Legends starter to still be playing, having already featured in three Scottish Premier League games for Celtic this season.
Milan Glorie, meanwhile, boasted their own mouthwatering mix of iconic names, with the likes of Cafu, Marcel Desailly and Alessandro Costacurta all in their starting XI.
The legendary Paolo Maldini was only on the bench, which showed the options Fabio Capello had to choose from and it only added to the sense of expectation in the build up to kick off.
While it promised to be an unforgettable afternoon for everyone watching on in north London and around the world, the true legacy of this occasion is in what it will provide.
The sell-out match will play a key part in helping The Arsenal Foundation to donate £1 million to build football pitches in London, Jordan and Somalia, helping thousands of children and internally displaced people.
It took less than a minute for Marc Overmars to remind us all of his enduring quality as he preyed on a misplaced pass, raced into space and crashed a shot inches over the bar.
The Dutch flier may not have the same breakneck speed as in his prime, but he was at the heart of the action and he again came close to opening the scoring with four minutes gone.
It was a classic counter-attack that would have reminded Arsenal fans of a certain vintage of the double-winning sides of the late nineties and early 2000s.
Gilberto broke up a Milan attack in his own area - of course - and found Petit, who released Freddie Ljungberg down the right. The Super Swede slipped in Overmars with an inch-perfect pass, and his low drive was superbly stopped by Christian Abbiati.
The crowd, like the players, rose to the occasion, serenading their heroes constantly and they were soon on their feet again as another sweeping move saw Overmars play in Pires, who arrowed a shot just over.
Watching Ljungberg and Pires slice through the Milan defence brought memories of the Invincibles flooding back, and one glancing header by the latter that flew just wide had the Emirates fans on their feet once again.
The deadlock was broken on 27 minutes when the inimitable Kanu, only on for a matter of moments, climbed highest to reach a deflected Petit cross and directed a firm header into the top corner.
The goal immediately prompted chants of, ‘Wenger, Wenger, sign him up!’ as the supporters continued to revel in a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of football.
The Nigerian superstar very much still has ‘it’, and one eye-catching roll to turn Dario Simic was classic Kanu, before he drilled a fierce shot inches over.
Beside the goal, the biggest cheer of the first half was when Nigel Winterburn mock-clashed with his old sparring partner Paolo Di Canio, and tumbled to the ground theatrically a la ‘that’ incident in 1998.
Milan pulled level just before the interval when, despite a fine save from Seaman to deny Massimo Ambrosini, Vieri bundled the ball over the line from close range.
The interval may have given the teams a much-needed breather but the pace and the quality of the game remained as high as ever after the restart.
The introduction of Lehmann proved popular, with the Clock End giving their fondly-remembered Invincible a big cheer but he was relatively untroubled in the early stages as the hosts started on the front foot.
Pires and Ljungberg were at the heart of it, spraying passes and making darting runs like days of old, while Kanu’s speed of thinking remained as quick as ever.
The use of rolling subs proved an inspired one, allowing these legends the opportunity to collect themselves temporarily (and milk the cheers of the crowd) before returning to the fray.
Overmars - who went off after pulling a hamstring racing on to a Kanu through ball - exited to a huge roar from the fans, who appreciated all of his efforts.
Moments later, Kanu restored Arsenal’s lead with another beautifully-placed header from a Luis Boa Morte free kick swung in from the left.
As the game wore on, the game understandably became more stretched and Boa Morte and Ljungberg had further opportunities to stretch the Gunners’ lead but were denied.
But Arsenal were not to be, and they - and Kanu - grabbed their third from the penalty spot after Pires had been tripped in the area, with the Nigerian calmly slotting home.
Pires got the goal he so thoroughly deserved near the end when Ljungberg burst down the right flank and centred for his French team-mate to convert from close range and prompt wild celebrations.
It was the perfect way to end a perfect afternoon of football, while also helping to provide £1 million to the Arsenal Foundation.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.