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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 21:54 GMT
Pires buries brave Derby
Henry (left) and Pires celebrate the game's only goal
Henry (left) and Pires celebrate the game's only goal
Arsenal 1-0 Derby
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A patient victory took Arsenal to the top of England's Premiership on the day manager Arsene Wenger said his club could become the biggest in the world.

The three points, which came courtesy of a second-half strike from French midfielder Robert Pires, propelled the Gunners to the domestic summit for the first time in 2002.

But they came at the expense of a dogged Derby team who played their hearts out for new manager John Gregory.

Any Arsenal hopes of an easy win were dashed by the manner of the Rams' spirited draw against Manchester United on Saturday.

  Key incidents:
47: Henry misses from one yard
69: Bergkamp sets Pires free for the winner
80: A Bergkamp strike is disallowed

They disappeared altogether during an entertaining first half at Highbury that owed as much to Derby's new-found confidence as to Arsenal's oozing flair.

Unsurprisingly, the home side had the first good chances.

French maestro Pires linked well with the in-form Dennis Bergkamp, but could not find a finishing touch.

Then Sol Campbell, fresh from his goal at Newcastle, almost struck again with a powerful header.

The championship is now in our hands and as long as we win our games we don't have to worry about anyone else
Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager
It was not one-way traffic, however.

Malcolm Christie, a two-goal hero against Manchester United, carried his good form to Highbury, outwitted Campbell before watching his teasing cross narrowly evade Lee Morris.

Thierry Henry, on a rare off-day, still caused his share of problems, creating a good chance for Pires before forcing an excellent save from Derby keeper Andy Oakes.

Ray Parlour in action against Derby
Parlour drove the Arsenal midfield

Arsenal attacked with even more purpose after the interval.

But Henry was immediately guilty of an amazing miss from one yard out after being set up by Bergkamp.

Determined to make up for his error, the French striker conjured up a moment of magic, getting free and striking the Derby post from the edge of the area on 50 minutes.

Parlour was unable to convert the rebound.

Having played both (Arsenal and Man Utd) in such a short space of time, United caused us more problems
John Gregory
Derby manager
The Gunners continued to mobilise their artillery but were frustrated time and again by good Derby defending.

When the breakthrough finally arrived in the 69th minute it was once again Bergkamp who was the game-breaker.

His awareness and touch set Pires free and the Frenchman stroked home his 10th goal of the season.

As time wound down, Bergkamp had a goal disallowed and Henry fired over the bar.

But any further punishment would have been harsh on Derby, who played with spirit without improving their desperate relegation plight.

Arsenal: Seaman, Luzhny (Dixon 46), Campbell, Stepanovs, Lauren, Wiltord (Edu 80), Vieira, Parlour, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry.

Subs Not Used: Grimandi, Wright, Kanu.

Booked: Parlour.

Derby: Oakes, Zavagno, Higginbotham, Riggott, Barton, Strupar (Valakari 68), Lee (O'Neil 55), Kinkladze (Grenet 54), Boertien, Christie, Morris.

Subs Not Used: Elliott, Foletti.

Booked: Lee, O'Neil.

Att: 37,878

Ref: G Barber (Tring).

BBC Sport's Ian Brown
"Not quite the sublime Arsenal of recent weeks"
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
"We believe we can improve"
Derby boss John Gregory
"We battled all the way "

Wednesday's games

Tuesday's games


Links to more Eng Prem stories are at the foot of the page.

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