By Adam Szreter at the San Siro
Arsenal FC kept their UEFA Champions League hopes alive with a spirited performance in front of a raucous San Siro crowd, Thierry Henry producing a one-man masterclass in attacking football. For Internazionale FC defeat was a setback after good recent form, but the fate of both teams still lies in their own hands on Matchday 6.
With both sides missing key players through injury or suspension, the match understandably took a while to find its shape. Inter seized the early initiative, but aside from a couple of wasted free-kicks from Christian Vieri and Marco Materazzi they achieved little of note. Arsenal, with memories of the mauling they took at Inter's hands in September fresh enough in their minds, took fully ten minutes to find their feet.
When they did, it was Ray Parlour, standing in as captain in place of Patrick Vieira, who calmed their apparent nerves with a sure touch on the ball. For Inter, Obafemi Martins showed the occasional glimpse of the pace that undid Arsenal at Highbury while Vieri flashed a header from an Andy van der Meyde cross just wide.
Important interceptions at either end, from Inter captain Javier Zanetti and Arsenal's Pascal Cygan helped to keep the game goalless, but that changed in the 25th minute. Henry, scorer of a hat-trick against AS Roma last season - the last time Arsenal played in Italy and the last time they won away from home in the Champions League - picked up Ashley Cole's pass on the edge of the Inter area and drove first time beyond Francesco Toldo into the bottom corner of the net.
But Arsenal's lead lasted just eight minutes, and as inevitably as Henry opening the scoring it was Vieri who equalised, albeit with the help of a sizeable deflection off Sol Campbell as the England defender attempted to block the shot. Credit for the assist went to Cristiano Zanetti, who fed Vieri after Edu had lost possession.
After that, a free-kick from Henry that sailed harmlessly over the bar and another, better effort from Materazzi, this time forcing Jens Lehmann into a good save, took the teams to half-time with honours even.
The game swung again, though, within three minutes of the restart as the visitors went in front. Once more Henry played a crucial role, skilfully beating Materazzi on the left edge of the Inter area before sending over a low cross for Fredrik Ljungberg to tap easily past a helpless Toldo.
Despite seeing them trailing, the home fans were now roaring their team on and when Cygan tripped the marauding Martins 20 metres from goal and in a central position they had genuine cause for hope. Van der Meyde's strike was hard and true, but it flew centimetres over Lehmann's bar.
At the other end, Henry was far from finished, causing havoc on the Arsenal left as he beat Iván Cordoba for pace, but this time there was no Arsenal player to turn the ball home after another deadly low cross.
And as if that was not enough, Henry raided down the left for a third time, terrorising poor Materazzi again, and electing to shoot only Toldo's fingertips defied him. However, with five minutes of normal time remaining, the French striker broke away after an Inter attack and scored emphatically.
Edu added what could prove a vital fourth goal just moments later. Pires then rubbed salt in Inter's wounds, which by now were gaping, and Arsenal's triumph was complete.