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Sunday, 9 December, 2001, 18:03 GMT
Henry inspires defiant Arsenal
Arsenal's Ray Parlour tackles Lee Hendrie
Arsenal's Ray Parlour tackles Lee Hendrie

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Arsenal 3-2 Aston Villa

Arsenal produced a stunning second-half comeback to beat Aston Villa at Highbury.

French striker Thierry Henry was again the inspiration for the Gunners, scoring two predatory goals.

The result puts Arsene Wenger's side just three points behind Premiership leaders Liverpool.

But Wenger indicated afterwards that he still believed Manchester United, along with other sides, could mount a challenge.

The Gunners found themselves 2-0 down at half time after Villa had put on a classic counter-attacking performance.

21 mins: Merson puts Villa ahead with a neat lob
34 mins: Stone makes it 2-0 to Villa
46 mins: Substitute Wiltord pulls one back for Arsenal
72 mins: Henry pulls Arsenal level
90 mins: Henry coolly slots Arsenal's equaliser

Prompted by the busy Lee Hendrie, Villa looked in control following goals from Paul Merson and Steve Stone.

But Arsenal were sensational after the interval and piled forward relentlessly.

Wiltord pulled a goal back with a sharp volley early on before Henry struck his two goals.

Wenger made only one change from the Arsenal side that had beaten Juventus so impressively in midweek, with Dennis Bergkamp coming in for Kanu.

Villa boss John Gregory fielded the veteran strikeforce of Merson and Dion Dublin.

The pair were impressive and combined for Villa's opening goal.

I don't write off Manchester United as quickly as some people
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger

Villa keeper Peter Enckelman, continuing in goal in the absence of the injured Peter Schmeichel, made an excellent save from Ashley Cole and then launched a huge kick upfield.

Dublin headed on and Merson deftly lifted the ball over Arsenal keeper Stuart Talyor from nine yards.

Arsenal's efforts were being frustrated by Villa's solid defence, expertly marshalled by veteran Steve Staunton.

Villa went further ahead in the 34th minute. Lauren sent a header into his own area instead of clearing and Stone capitalised by driving the ball low past Taylor.

Wenger sent on Wiltord for Ljungberg at half-time and played with a three-pronged strikeforce.

He also replaced Matthew Upson, who had struggled against Dublin, with Martin Keown.

It is hard to look beyond Arsenal for the title
Aston Villa boss John Gregory

The changes worked almost immediately, with Wiltord showing great reactions to volley a Parlour cross home with his left foot.

Villa were now struggling to contain the Gunners. With 20 minutes to go, Patrick Vieira dispossess J Lloyd Samuel and crossed to Henry, who controlled before slotting past Enckelman from 10 yards.

Then, in the last minute, Henry was played through by Pires and drew Villa's keeper before sliding the ball wide of him.

Arsenal: Taylor, Lauren, Upson, Campbell, Cole, Vieira, Ljungberg, Parlour, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp. Subs: Keown, Wiltord, Grimandi, Kanu, Stack.

Aston Villa: Enckelman, Samuel, Wright, Mellberg, Staunton, Stone, Boateng, Barry, Hendrie, Dublin, Merson. Subs: Angel, Myhill, Ginola, Vassell, Bewers.

Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood).

BBC Sport's Simon Brotherton
"A stirring second-half comeback from Arsenal"
Links to more Eng Prem stories are at the foot of the page.


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