Arsenal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
THE championship may be beyond them these days, but knock-out competition finds Arsenal doggedly difficult to beat, and the holders stood firm in Millwall's Den of din last night to claim their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup with a last-minute winner as scrappy as the 89 minutes which preceded it.
The sound and the fury were impressive, the football much less so, but the Premiership representatives were the better of two ordinary teams and deserve the right to meet the winners of next Wednesday's Bolton-Everton replay.
Arsenal headed back to north London in high spirits, their celebrations muted only by Ian Wright's sixth booking of the season, which will see the arch-predator suspended for the next round.
It was entirely fitting that Tony Adams's late lunge should be decisive on a night when strong, resolute defenders always held the upper hand. The inability of the forwards to make penetrative progress was pointed up by Wright's substitution, 20 minutes from the end.
For the first time, the League's newest stadium was full, a sardine- tight 20,093 brewing up an atmosphere in the very best traditions of the competition.
That the players never quite did it justice was not for the want of trying. With three wins and a draw from their previous four games, George Graham's team had arrived at his managerial alma mater in bullish mood.
The denizens of the New Den were unimpressed. Superiority and status counts for nothing in these parts, and the First Division side set about their work reminiscent of the days when Kitchener and Cripps put the fear of God into the stoutest visiting heart.
Driven on by their old anthem 'Let 'em come', Millwall charged forward with gritty determination and might have been in front before the tie was two minutes old.
Jon Goodman cut through to the byline on the left and cut the ball back to Dave Mitchell, whose close- range shot was diverted wide by Martin Keown's full-stretch intervention.
Keown had been promoted at John Jensen's expense to perform man-for-man duties on Etienne Verveer, Millwall's clever Dutch midfielder. The selection signalled Arsenal's characteristic intention to keep it tight.
Millwall's pacy persistence would have given them the edge against many Premiership teams, but Arsenal are rarely found wanting when it comes to dig and chase and, on a night when both sides took it in turns to give the ball away, they were better at winning it back.
Such chances as there were came from Graham's heavy artillery, Lee Dixon setting up first Eddie McGoldrick and then Kevin Campbell for promising chances which came to naught.
Millwall plugged away but found themselves battering their heads against a brick wall in the formidable, four-square shape of Adams. It was a man's night, and how the big man loved it, repelling all comers with head and boot.
Arsenal were the better team and were tantalisingly close to proving it when Ray Parlour, standing near the penalty spot, volleyed David Hillier's centre a foot or so wide of Kasey Keller's left-hand post.
Barely a minute was left when Keller, under challenge from Merson, failed to collect McGoldrick's corner at the near post and Adams helped the ball over the line at nudging range.
Millwall (4-4-2): Keller; Huxford, Stevens, Van Den Hauwe, Thatcher; Rae, Verveer, Robertson, Barber; Mitchell, Goodman. Substitutes not used: May, Moralee, Emberson (gk).
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Keown, Hillier, McGoldrick; Wright (Merson, 70), Campbell. Substitutes not used: Jensen, Miller (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).
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