Cudicini error gifts Arsenal top of table

Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1

Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1

Chelsea keeper Carlo Cudicini made one of the howlers of the season to gift Arsenal a victory which lifted them back to the top of the Barclaycard Premiership.

The Italian’s blunder, which allowed Thierry Henry to grab a 75th-minute winner, overshadowed a world-class goal from Hernan Crespo after seven minutes, which had equalised Ray Parlour’s opener three minutes earlier.

Nor was it the first time this season that Cudicini had gifted the opposition a goal, as it was his similar glaring error which helped Besiktas beat Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League earlier this month.

The result will no doubt ruin manager Claudio Ranieri’s 52nd birthday on Monday, and his players must bounce back quickly as they are at home to Lazio in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Arsenal enjoyed the perfect start by taking the lead after four minutes with their 700th Premiership goal.

Glen Johnson handled the ball to concede a free-kick 25 yards from goal, just right of centre. Edu struck a low drive which Parlour cleverly diverted into Cudicini’s bottom left corner.

The hosts’ joy lasted until only three minutes, however, as Crespo hit a brilliant equaliser. Fed by Geremi on the left, he skipped inside of Lauren and unleashed a a fierce shot from 25 yards which flew into the top right corner with goalkeeper Jens Lehmann rooted to the spot.

The winner came when substitute Dennis Bergkamp won a free-kick which he took quickly and released Robert Pires on the right, but his low cross aimed at Henry looked a waste as it was far too close to the goalkeeper.

However, as Cudicini went to scoop up the ball he somehow spilled it on to the leg of Henry and it ran over the line for a goal.

This was seen as the first real test of Chelsea’s title credentials – but the harsh reality was that it ended in failure, and they have still never won at Highbury in the Premiership.

After the electric start with two goals inside the first seven minutes it looked as if the capacity Highbury crowd were in for a treat, but the game never lived up to that early promise.

Arsenal were effective on their left as Johnson looked the weak link and Ashley Cole and Sylvain Wiltord did well on the overlap, but Cudicini was handling the crosses well.

In the 27th minute Henry charged forward from inside his own half, holding off the challenge of Claude Makelele and Robert Huth before eventually being hustled out by Mario Melchiot – making his 100th league start for the Blues.

Chelsea went forward and Lampard tried his luck with a good low drive from 20 yards, but Lehmann made the save diving to his right.

Two minutes later it was the turn of Arsenal right-back Lauren to try something similar, but his good run ended in disappointment as his effort flew high and wide.

Chelsea might have finished the half on a high note as after 42 minutes the ball fell nicely for Crespo on the right edge of the box, but he perhaps took too long to shoot and lashed his effort over the bar.

Arsenal took charge after the break and Parlour’s deep 66th-minute cross fell for Pires who drilled in a low shot which was well gathered by Cudicini. That was followed by a corner and it was the hard-working Frenchman again providing the shot which was again saved.

The game was drifting and needed a change and it was Wenger who made the first double move by bringing on Kanu and Dennis Bergkamp for Parlour and Wiltord after 65 minutes. Ranieri responded two minutes later by sending on Jesper Gronkjaer for the ineffective Mutu.

Gronkjaer provided a good cross within a minute which Crespo headed down, but there was no blue shirt to challenge Lehmann.

Ranieri made his second change by replacing Duff with Cole after 71 minutes, and it needed a brilliant save by Cudicini from Henry to keep Chelsea on level terms a minute later.

Gilberto fed Henry on the edge of the six-yard box and when he turned towards goal he looked destined to score, until the Italian goalkeeper threw himself to his left to push the ball behind. The danger was not over as from the corner Kanu headed against the post.

However, Cudicini’s brilliance was quickly forgotten as he dropped the ball at the feet of Henry, who did not know a great deal about it as he bundled home the winner.

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