Arsenal may be shedding the flinty image of George Graham's latter days but it does not mean they cannot be hard-faced when they want to be. Last night they did a sand-bagging job on First Division Barnsley to remove them from the Coca-Cola Cup.
Wiping away the home team's pretty football like so much unnecessary froth, they won this third-round tie with a relaxed accomplishment that squeezed out any prospect of an upset. Like a heavyweight boxer against a flyweight, the difference was not measured in terms of skill but by weight of punch supplied by goals from Steve Bould, Dennis Bergkamp and Martin Keown.
On a filthy night, Barnsley were often more eye-catching than their Premiership visitors except when it came to the penalty areas. There Arsenal were ruthlessly efficient while the home side's inaccuracy was summed up by Andy Liddell blazing a penalty high over the bar in the 77th minute.
There is a theory among people who rarely frequent Oakwell that Barnsley are unable to hold a football match without a storm breaking out above them. Last night duly conformed to that prejudice, the wind and rain lashing down in a manner worthy of Wuthering Heights.
Under the circumstances good football was unlikely and in the first half hour Arsenal adhered to that faithfully. Barely two passes were strung together by the Premiership team and they must have been staggered that they reached the interval two goals ahead.
Until the 38th minute the Arsenal threat had amounted to one through ball form Bergkamp that was picked off Ian Wright's toes by Barnsley's goalkeeper, David Watson. But the Gunners are past masters at making the most of morsels and, as the interval approached, they struck like vipers.
The first goal came from a free-kick 25 yards out that was passed short from Glenn Helder to Bergkamp who hit the ball skimming towards the far corner. Watson saved low to his left but the ball popped from his grasp and Bould side-footed in the rebound.
After 41 minutes it was 2-0 and again Bergkamp's shooting with decisive point. Steve Davis, the Barnsley centre-back, let the ball bounce off him and the Dutch striker gained possession midway in the opposition half. Seeing no colleague in a more promising position, he swung his left foot and beat Watson from 20 yards.
It was cruel for Barnsley who had begun the match playing like the sun was shining and the air was still. Their short passing, a joy in the opening 20 minutes when Liddell and Andy Payton went close with a shot and a header respectively, survived beyond these disappointments but against the most parsimonious defence in the Premiership they were banging their heads against rock.
The chances were that they rather than Arsenal would crack and so it proved 15 minutes from time. Paul Merson crossed from the right and Keown, arriving late at the far post, headed in powerfully.
"I want my players to take encouragement form that game," Danny Wilson, the Barnsley manager said. "There were some good performances out there and the only difference was the finishing."
A lot of clubs are finding that out about Arsenal this season.
Barnsley (5-3-2): Watson; Eaden, Davis (Rammell, 66), Bishop, Moses, Archdeacon; Bullock, Sheridan, Redfearn; Payton, Liddell. Substitutes not used: Rammell, Jackson, Butler (gk).
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Merson, Keown, Jensen (Hughes, 81), Helder; Bergkamp, Wright (Hartson, 81). Substitute not used: Bartram (gk).
Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).Reuse content