Ferguson fights as Arsenal falter

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The Independent Online
AN Everton side yesterday deprived for most of the second half of their £4m signing from Rangers, Duncan Ferguson, who was sent off after 54 minutes for an aggressive push on John Jensen, still managed to expose Arsenal's flaws.

The home side were supposedly strengthened by the appearances of John Hartson, who was bought for £2.5m from Luton, and Chris Kiwomya, signed from Ipswich for a fee still to be agreed and used only briefly yesterday as a substitute.

George Graham says he still has big money available for players, but their names will have to be better known than Hartson and Kiwomya to satisfy the Arsenal fans and improve the health of the club.

Not that Everton's health is looking much improved now that their costly gamble on the volatile Ferguson is backfiring. They will now be without the big centre-forward because of a mandatory three-match ban and Ferguson is still awaiting trial in Scotland on an assault charge that could end in a prison sentence. Coming as it did in another trying week, Arsenal's long-awaited move into the transfer market had all the appearance of a knee-jerk sop to unhappy fans who had seen Andy Cole move from Newcastleto Manchester United for £7m and asked why it was that George Graham only gave him one full match and sold him to Bristol City for £500,000.

In fairness, Arsenal had been negotiating for Hartson and Kiwomya for several weeks, but what the fans must have wanted to know was why he had failed to rejuvenate a fading team at least two years ago.

The impression is that Graham only began to take action when he knew that the alcoholic Paul Merson was going to be out of action for several months. The crisis has been compounded by Alan Smith's injury and the continuing absence of goals from Kevin Campbell, who, ironically, Graham always believed had greater potential than Cole.

So Kiwomya could have a stagnating career revived and Hartson, only 19, finds himself charged with adding further goalscoring potential to an attack relying too much on Ian Wright.

But most people at Luton will tell you that Hartson may have a lot of promise, but is not exactly a cold-eyed striker, more a natural midfield player who likes a pot at goal.

There has been a lingering complacency about Arsenal that has invited events like Wednesday's dismissal from the Coca-Cola Cup and a drift into dangerous areas of the Premiership. They still have the FA Cup and the European Cup- Winners' Cup as targets, but yesterday everyone realised that defeat by the still-troubled Everton would see them in comparable difficulties.

What with all this and Graham still facing questions over his role in the Jensen transfer, it seemed appropriate that the Red Cross should have chosen Highbury to launch their 125th birthday celebrations yesterday. If ever there was a club in need of patching up it is Arsenal.

The main debate of the day was over whether Hartson, thrown straight into the action, and Kiwomya, were really of the quality Highbury badly needs. That Arsenal managed to take a sixth-minute lead suggested that long-term questions could be delayed, though not for long. When David Hillier swung a searching long ball into the Everton penalty area, Wright gratefully accepted it and beat the oncoming Neville Southall.

But the advantage was sustained for only nine minutes before Paul Rideout, with his back to Arsenal's goal near the edge of their penalty area, laid the ball back to Dave Watson, whose usually less-than-trustworthy left foot sent a shot beyond the staticDavid Seaman.

Outstanding saves by both Southall and Seaman kept honours even, but Everton's balance was threatened early in the second half when Ferguson struck out with two hands atJensen off the ball and was immediately shown the red card.

So Southall's experience and rediscovered enthusiasm became even more important, and the wonderful saves he made from Hartson and Wright were not only the highlights of an increasingly dour match, but ensured that Everton's depleted side continued to embarrass this still far from enterprising Arsenal outfit.

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