Arsenal supporters are beginning to view a goal by Dennis Bergkamp in much the same light as a small child regards Christmas: they know it is coming, it is just the wait that is unbearable.
The striker signed from Internazionale for pounds 7.5m has now played seven matches without finding the net. Not that Arsenal will be bothered if they continue to win matches with the ease with which they disposed of Hartlepool in the Coca-Cola Cup second round, first leg last night.
Two goals from Tony Adams, one five minutes from time, and another from Ian Wright made the second leg a formality while the home side's unhappy night was summed up by the sending-off of their goalkeeper, Brian Horne.
The gulf between the clubs was spelt out by the wages. Ian McGuckin and Bergkamp both have to make do with pounds 15,000, the difference being that the Hartlepool captain makes it last a year while Arsenal's Dutch import has his bank balance refurbished by that sum every week.
There was also a slight disparity in expectations given that the Gunners slammed seven past the Third Division side over two legs at the same stage of the competition last season.
An upset was unlikely and it became even more remote after a first half in which the visitors took a steely grip on the tie. Safe to say by the half-time whistle there was more chance of Adams playing a game without a "donkey" chant breaking out than Hartlepool causing a shock.
First Adams half-volleyed in from 10 yards after Bergkamp had disrupted the home rearguard with an overhead kick in the 11th minute and then Wright scored with a diving header from Paul Merson's cross five minutes before the interval.
That was bad enough for Hartlepool but things became considerably worse on the hour when their goalkeeper was dismissed. A long pass from Glenn Helder appeared to be heading for Horne but he misjudged the bounce and was forced to handle outside his area.
Given that an Arsenal player would have had a clear route to goal if the foul had not been committed, the referee had little option but to brandish the red card. In the drama it was almost forgotten that the visiting forward robbed of the chance was Bergkamp.
With the balance hopelessly in Arsenal's favour the name of the referee, Wolstenholme, seemed particularly apt. They think it's all over - it almost certainly is.
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): Horne; Reddish, Billing, McGuckin, Lynch (Oliver, 76); Canham, Tait, Lowe (Ford, 82), McAuley; Houchen (Henderson, 78), Halliday.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Merson, Parlour, Jensen, Helder; Wright, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Hartson, Morrow, Bartram (gk).
Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn).Reuse content