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Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Arsenal ease past Birmingham
Arsenal players celebrate Sylvain Wiltord's goal
It was all too easy for Arsenal at Highbury
Arsenal 2-0 Birmingham

Arsenal opened their Premiership campaign with an awesome display of attacking football that demonstrated to Birmingham the standards they must aspire to if they are to avoid relegation.

The Gunners immediately picked up where they left off at the end of last season, registering their 14th straight Premiership win - a new top-flight record.

Arsenal scored through Thierry Henry after nine minutes, though his goal was largely the result of a goalkeeping error.

  Key moments
9 mins: Henry scores
16 mins: Wiltord scores
74 mins: Cisse is sent off
And the game was effectively over as a contest seven minutes later when Sylvain Wiltord doubled his team's lead.

Yet after establishing an early lead, Arsenal's finishing was at times poor and they gave the impression of a team content to play out the match in second gear.

Even so, Steve Bruce's team were second-class in all departments and Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman was a spectator for large chunks of the match.

And Birmingham's afternoon took a further turn for the worse when debutant Aliou Cisse was sent-off after 74 minutes.


It was a difficult afternoon for us and we have to learn from it
Birmingham boss Steve Bruce
Blues desperately need Robbie Savage - suspended for this match - to add some bite to midfield and injured new signing Clinton Morrison to provide some panache up front.

Birmingham made a daunting task even more difficult when Nico Vaesen's error led to Henry's opening goal.

Birmingham's Belgium keeper dived to his right, but inexplicably failed to hold Henry's tame long-range free kick.

Henry almost doubled the Gunners' lead seven minutes later when he connected from short range with Wiltord's low driven cross from the right, but Vaesen blocked his effort.

Birmingham striker Stern John did have a sight of goal midway through the first half when Ashley Cole sliced a clearance, but he volleyed his shot wide.

And minutes later Arsenal's irresistible combination of direct running and one-touch football led to their second goal.

Thierry Henry golds off the challenge of Oliver Tebily
Henry challenges for the ball
Kenny Cunningham - on his Blues debut - fatally backed off as Wiltord ran at the Birmingham defence and the French striker swept the ball past Vaesen from the edge of the area.

Henry, Ray Parlour and Sol Campbell all went close before the break as the Gunners attacked almost at will.

And Arsenal proceeded to carve the Birmingham defence open at the start of the second half.

Wiltord shot wide after 46 minutes, Darren Purse cleared with Gilberto Silva lurking and Vaesen brilliantly denied Henry as Arsenal went in search of a third goal.

John forced a save from Seaman after 62 minutes as Birmingham started to enjoy more of the possession - but Edu and Henry both went close for Arsenal as the home team continued to create chances.

Cisse was unluckily dismissed after receiving his second yellow card with 16 minutes left but Blues continued to try and push forward and substitute Darren Carter narrowly missed with a header.

But Arsenal finished the stronger - Parlour wasted a good chance with full-time looming and the impressive Darren Purse denied Habib Kolo Toure a late goal.


Arsenal: Seaman, Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Cole, Parlour, Vieira, Edu (Toure 86), Wiltord (Aliadiere 76), Bergkamp (Silva 31), Henry.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Luzhny.

Goals: Henry 9, Wiltord 24.

Birmingham: Vaesen, Kenna, Cunningham, Purse, Grainger, Damien Johnson, Tebily (Carter 60), Cisse, Hughes, John, Horsfield (Lazaridis 71).

Subs Not Used: Bennett, Mooney, Michael Johnson.

Sent Off: Cisse (74).

Booked: Purse, Cisse.

Attendance: 38,018.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Jonathan Pearce
"Apprentices to Arsenal's master craftsmen"
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
"We have the quality and talent"
Blues manager Steve Bruce
"It was a tough afternoon for us"
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