Football: Arsenal live on their wits

Arsenal 3 Bergkamp 62, Adams 67, Anelka 68 Southampton 0 Attend ance: 38,056
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The Independent Online
SOUTHAMPTON'S increasing reputation for making life tough for any standard of opponent lasted for an hour at Highbury yesterday, but then the wit of Dennis Bergkamp and the pace of Marc Overmars reminded them that they had won there only twice in 27 visits.

Southampton's most stimulating contribution to the game at large this season had come with victory over Manchester United which offered renewed hope to the serious pursuers, of whom Arsenal were getting the most breathless.

A midweek Coca-Cola Cup win over Chelsea had said more about Ruud Gullit's fading confidence than Arsenal's chances of troubling United, but to their credit it came in spite of the absence of Ian Wright, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon and David Seaman, none of whom returned yesterday. Their absence was immediately deemed less damaging than Southampton's loss of their leading scorer, Kevin Davies, along with Carlton Palmer and Francis Benali.

Arsenal had such absolute control that even when their goalkeeper, Alex Manninger, more or less offered David Hirst a chance by losing the ball after it had been in his hands, the ensuing shot hit the side netting.

Had the referee concurred with Nicolas Anelka's appeals that he had been tripped in the penalty area, Arsenal would have run off with the match there and then. As it was, they saw Egil Ostenstad endanger them, heading wide from a corner when the goal was an open target, while Matthew Oakley had time to shoot towards the far post, which was splendidly covered by Manninger in full flight. With Matt Le Tissier having one of those days when he might as well have gone shopping, it was inevitable that Bergkamp would bring about the significant action. Stealing away from a hesitant Southampton defence, he collected a long clearance from Steve Bould. He drew out Paul Jones and beat him dismissively.

Suddenly Arsenal were finishing what they threatened. A corner from Emmanuel Petit was headed in by Tony Adams after 67 minutes and just one minute later Bergkamp's low cross was struck in by Anelka. If Bergkamp was the instigator of Arsenal's hard-won victory, it was secured by the speed and eye of Overmars. In the last moments he cruised down the wing and clipped a shot against the far post. He deserved better.