Football: Arsenal thwarted by Baker

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . . .0

Ipswich Town. . . . 0

IPSWICH TOWN, the Premier League's great frustrators, completed their week's work by taking a point at Highbury from an Arsenal side woefully short of composure, accuracy and a wishbone of luck in front of goal.

To be seasonably generous, it was more a pitiless than a pitiful match for the Gunners who have now scored just one goal since 7 November during which time they have dropped 16 points. Their strikers, particularly the hard- working Ian Wright, fashioned numerous chances in the first half to be denied by the inadequacy of their final touch or by Clive Baker, who had an excellent match in the Ipswich goal. Outstanding saves in each half marked him as the guiding star of the match.

In the first half, which Arsenal dominated from the third minute to the 40th, Baker tipped over a fierce broadside from Nigel Winterburn, struck from 25 yards out. Nine minutes into the second half, he topped that acrobatic effort with a showstopper. David Hillier, largely anonymous aside from providing predictable set- piece crosses, knocked the ball in from the left, Andy Linighan headed down for Steve Bould to sweep a right-foot volley. Only Baker's instincts helped him touch it over.

Last Monday, Ipswich had won away at Nowrich, the Premier leaders, but they rarely looked like getting - or wanting - more than a point yesterday as they sweated out their 12th draw in 21 league matches. A Jason Dozzell shot in the second minute and brief Arsenal alarms as Chris Kiwomya responded to Gavin Johnson's promptings were the sum total of their pressure in the first half.

The Gunners matched their visitors for sweat and industry - there were more hustlers in midfield than in a Nevada casino - but the players who are paid to provide the wit and invention were simply not up to the job. Winterburn worked hard down the left and several crosses deserved a better finish. Alan Smith clipped one just wide and in the first half headed over from six yards out. The groans were not a result of over-indulged stomachs.

Wright roamed across the front of Arsenal's attack and, particularly in the first half, broke free of his marker and menacingly bore down on Baker's goal. His best first-half chance, set up by Kevin Campbell's block, ended when he tried to beat the Ipswich goalkeeper at the near post rather than shoot across him. Two minutes later he slid in at the far post after Mark Flatts, in one of his least effective games of a very young career, fed Campbell on the right. Only he knew whether his effort was a cross or shot.

When Ipswich found themselves unable to alter the pattern of events in the second half, Phil Whelan was introduced to shore up the harassed central defence, freeing John Wark to play as sweeper. That, and Baker's agility and command, gradually discouraged Arsenal from believing that the year was about to end on a high note and claimed another point for the Suffolk sucker punch. Late on, they nearly claimed all three from breakaways. Their second substitute, Boncho Genchev, pursued by three Arsenal defenders, raced on to a precise Neil Thompson pass, was tripped, curled up like a hedgehog and rolled theatrically. It was great pantomime.

The Arsenal manager, George Graham, sent on Anders Limpar and David O'Leary in the 75th minute. They made little impression, though the Swede appealed for a penalty as he drove a cross against Wark's arm. As Genchev had discovered, the referee's season of goodwill did not stretch to such ludicrous generosity.

Arsenal: D Seaman; P Lydersen, N Winterburn, D Hillier, S Bould, A Linighan, J Jensen (D O'Leary, 75 min), I Wright, A Smith, K Campbell (A Limpar, 75 min), M Flatts. Sub not used: A Miller (gk). Manager: G Graham.

Ipswich Town: C Baker; G Johnson, N Thompson, M Stockwell, J Wark, D Linighan, G Williams, P Goddard (B Genchev, 60 min), S Whitton (P Whelan, 55 min), J Dozzell, C Kiwomya. Sub not used: J Winters (gk). Team manager: M McGiven.

Referee: R Milford (Bristol).

(Photograph omitted)

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