Blues 0 Arsenal 4

Last updated : 16 March 2003 By Richard Barker
Arsenal were unaffected by the half an hour delay to the kick-off due to an electrical fault, and ran out comfortable winners in this stroll in the park for the likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp.

Steve Bruce suddenly had a few more options in his team selection following his recent shopping spree plus the return to fitness of Steve Vickers and Michael Johnson - who both returned at the heart of the defence. To their right was home debutant Ferdinand Coly, whilst ever-versatile Jeff Kenna was shoved back to left back again. Damien Johnson switched to the right flank in midfield, with Jamie Clapham making his debut on the left, with Robbie Savage and another debutant in Stephen Clemence inside him. Up front, fit again Stern John partnered the final new signing, Christophe Dugarry.

Blues started slowly, and though Dugarry went close with a left foot volley, Arsenal had already hit the home side on the break on several occasions, with Sylvain Wiltord firing wide early on. Just 6 minutes in, the Gunners took the lead through the sensational Henry. Brazilian World Cup winner Gilberto Silva held on to the ball in midfield allowing Henry to make a stunning run through the middle. Gilberto released the ball at the perfect time, allowing Henry to round Nico Vaesen and slot the ball home after tearing strips off the Blues defence with his sheer pace.

Arsenal continued to allow Blues to have possession, but not actually make any sort of penetration. The visitors were content to soak up a fair amount of ineffective pressure, before attempting to strike on the counter attack - as they have done so well for many years now. However, in the 29th minute, they could barely have asked for more assistance in netting their second. Damien Johnson gave the ball away cheaply in his own half, and as the ball was hit forwards, Michael Johnson bizarrely nodded it down to the unrushing Pires who lashed a right-foot volley past the helpless Vaesen. It was game over already, if the truth be told.

For Blues, Dugarry was looking to be an incredible signing. He was the one player in a Blues shirt who genuinely would not have looked out of place in an Arsenal shirt. Some of his touches showed up his team-mates, as the likes of John were flat-footed in response to the Frenchman's clever flicks and nod-downs. Surprisingly, Dugarry dominated in the air against Sol Campbell and Martin Keown throughout.

In the second half, things continued in much the same vein. Whilst Blues had plenty of possession, Arsenal were always comfortable, and never in any danger. Dugarry was proving to be on his own as a threat to the Champions defence.

On 67 minutes Arsenal notched their third through the unlikely source of Cameroon right-back Lauren. The former Olympic gold-medal winner stayed in the area following a corner, and when Bergkamp drifted a cross in following a Blues clearance, Lauren was there to out-jump Michael Johnson, and loop a header over Vaesen into the far corner.

Three minutes later Vaesen was picking the ball out of the net for a fourth and final time. Arsenal countered quickly again, and Wiltord was able to find Henry in acres of space, and able to coolly slot the ball past Vaesen for a second time. The humiliation was complete.

Blues continued to press to little effect until the final whistle, which in truth, came as some relief. Arsenal, on this form, are undoubtedly the best side in England, and probably in the world. When Henry picks the ball up deep and runs at you, there genuinely is not a lot you can do, and with a supporting cast of Pires, Gilberto, Bergkamp and Wiltord, they really can be a joy to watch.

For Blues, Dugarry was a sensation - looking like a world class player pitched into a team of First Division players. His movement and ability on the ball was quite simply incredible, and some of his awareness of team-mates positions really showed up the rest of the Blues team, as they weren't anywhere near the same wavelength as him. Some of the flick-ons that Stern John failed to react in time to were majestic. As for the other debutants, Jamie Clapham and Stephen Clemence both made assured starts, and importantly looked fairly comfortable on the ball - the former making a few decent crosses and the latter picking some good passes early on, as well as being prepared to stick his foot in. Coly, however, continued his uncertain start in the side following last weeks FA Cup exit at Fulham.

Luckily, you don't have to play Arsenal every week. For a team with three brand new faces in it, Blues didn't do as bad as the scoreline suggests. Certainly had the likes of Fulham or Sunderland been the opponents, Blues may well have got a result. Dugarry looks set to have a major impact on the remainder of the season, and if Clapham and Clemence can continue to be solid and effective, Blues should pick up enough results to survive. Arsenal, on the other hand, look a nailed-on certainty for the Premiership title, if you ask me.

Vaesen - Exposed
Coly - Poor and reckless
Kenna - Struggled
Johnson, M - At fault for goal two, but played reasonably well
Vickers - Adequate, yet lacks pace
Johnson, D - A little bit lost
Clapham - Good, strong debut
Clemence - Nice touches and not afraid to graft
Savage - The game passed him by slightly
Dugarry - Superb, if only his team-mates had half his ability
John - Should have linked a lot better with Dugarry

Grainger - Not a lot he could do
Devlin - Started poorly but got at Ashley Cole a little more later on
Kirovski - Got involved