Football: Arsenal draw Hartson's sting to earn a precious point

West Ham United 0 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online
A PSYCHOLOGICAL advantage was meant to be established in this game ahead of West Ham and Arsenal's rematch in the FA Cup quarter-final at Highbury on Sunday. In the event, which was a hard-working if uninspiring goalless contest, the team to benefit most was at the other end of the country.

Manchester United are now 11 points clear in the Premiership from Arsenal, who have two games in hand, and they play at Old Trafford a week on Saturday. That has become a must win for the Gunners. "We need to have some away wins to have a chance," Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said.

"The game never opened up tonight and none of the teams deserved to win. We didn't do enough offensively and it wasn't a bad point, but if you want to fight for the championship it is not enough.''

West Ham are now floating just outside the top six, which is the hallowed area for Harry Redknapp. The West Ham manager is used to contemplating relegation when he celebrates his birthday at this time of the year, but yesterday he will have been able to wish for something a little more positive as the 51 candles on his cake were extinguished.

The Hammers may be heading for Europe, though. "This season has gone a bit better than I expected," Redknapp said. "It's the strongest we've been here for a long time.'' They will not be at their strongest on Sunday however. Both John Hartson, through suspension, and the Cup-tied Trevor Sinclair will be missing from the attack at Highbury. With a limited personnel available, Harry already has the tactics mapped out. "We know it's going to be a tough game on Sunday," he said. "I will settle for a 0-0 draw and bring them back here for a replay.''

Hartson was never out of the scrum for long last night. He continually bulled his way around up front, but Tony Adams and the outstanding Martin Keown were used to dealing with that kind of livestock.

Hartson's performance when the sides met in the Coca-Cola Cup in January included a missed penalty, and the suggestion then was, though he might be wearing a different shirt, he had yet to be transferred from Arsenal. That was a bit harsh, although once again there was more effort than effect in this display.

The Hammers had injury problems in defence with Rio Ferdinand off games with a calf injury. That would have been more significant had Dennis Bergkamp, with a damaged back, not been missing from the Gunners' ranks. In the Dutchman's absence, Nicolas Anelka had too much to do on his own up front.

There were, however, moments to warm. After 12 minutes, Eyal Berkovitch's curling yet pacy shot was athletically tipped away by Alex Manninger. And just on half-time, Adams was an unlikely acrobat in the home penalty area, sending an overhead kick just wide.

Hartson again had his beefy moments in the second-half and a corner somehow managed to wander across the Arsenal line. Bernard Lama, the French international goalkeeper making his debut for the Hammers, had to be a little more active in the second period. It was his right foot which frustrated a late effort from the substitute Luis Boa Morte which almost stole it for the visitors. That would have been cruel - and a nightmare for Harry Redknapp.

Wenger, too, has been admitting to interrupted nights during his time in British football. For Alex Ferguson, though, there will have been no problems getting off last night.

West Ham United (3-4-3): Lama; Breacker (Potts, h-t), Pearce, Unsworth; Impey, Lomas, Lampard, Berkovitch; Lazaridis, Hartson, Sinclair. Substitutes not used: Finn (gk), Abou, Bishop, Mean.

Arsenal (4-3-2-1): Manninger; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Upson (Winterburn, 77); Petit, Hughes, Vieira; Overmars, Platt (Boa Morte, 87); Anelka. Substitutes not used: Grimandi, Lukic (gk), Rankin.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).

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