Football: Arsenal's ambition checked by Keane

Coventry City 3 Arsenal 2

TWO SEASONS ago, Arsenal went into the Christmas programme in sixth place, 13 points adrift of the lead. They finished champions. Last season they were again outside the top five and finished second.

Since they are fourth this morning, a mere eight points behind Leeds, it would be premature to write them off this season but, having crashed to an unexpected defeat at Highfield Road yesterday, it seems another awesome New Year charge will be required if they are to contest the title.

On a ground where they are usually successful the Gunners, despite a late rally, were well beaten, conceding long-range goals to Gary McAllister and Mustapha Hadji in the first half and a poacher's goal to Robbie Keane in the second. Fredrik Ljungberg and Davor Suker gave them hope of a point in the last quarter but Coventry deservedly held on. Arsenal's match against Leeds at Highbury tomorrow now takes on an even greater importance.

Coventry had begun with the expected rush of attacks but Arsenal denied them a clear opening and looked to have fashioned a lead after five minutes when good work by Thierry Henry and Nwankwo Kanu released Marc Overmars on goal. He had time and space but Magnus Hedman saved well with his legs.

The Sky Blues made the most of their reprieve, Cedric Roussel laying the ball off two minutes later for McAllister, whose 25-yard shot deflected off Martin Keown to leave David Seaman stranded and beaten on his return to the Arsenal goal.

The Londoners were surprised but initially unworried. With Gilles Grimandi prominent in midfield they pushed forward and Emmanuel Petit shot just wide. But mistakes began to creep in with Tony Adams, unexpectedly, a prime culprit. Hadji wasted one opportunity while Keane shot wide from another.

Offensively, meanwhile, Arsenal had began to run into blind alleys. Overmars v Paul Telfer did not look an equal contest but the Dutchman kept drifting inside and, when he was wide, Arsenal were unable to find him. On the other flank Steve Froggatt, who was given little opportunity to show his attacking qualities, made a superb tackle to dispossess Kanu as the Nigerian threatened to dribble through seven minutes before the break.

Two minutes later Froggatt did move into an advanced position and, taking a cross-field ball from Carlton Palmer, rolled a pass to Hadji on the edge of the box. The Moroccan stunned the ball with his first touch and, on the turn, curled the ball inside the far post with his second.

It was a spectacular goal and, with Hedman making an equally impressive save from Henry at the other end, Coventry fans were able to wallow in its majesty through the interval.

Ljungberg hit the side netting early in the second period but Coventry continued to press with Keane shooting over, Youssef Chippo bringing Seaman to his knees and Roussel opening up the Arsenal defence with a cross which required only the merest of touches from Chippo to produce a third.

A caution for Grimandi, his 10th of the season, underlined Arsenal's frustration, which deepened when the Frenchman limped off soon afterwards. However, they hauled themselves back into the game and, after Overmars headed on, Ljungberg, at the third attempt, pulled a goal back.

With Henry again hitting the side-netting a typical Arsenal fight-back seemed in the offing but Coventry returned to the attack and, from Roussel's flick-on, Keane conjured an exquisite finish for his eighth goal of the season.

Now, surely, the game was won but Arsenal refused to give up and with five minutes left Suker scored a fine individual goal to prompt a late bombardment in which Lee Dixon almost snatched a point.

The victory took Coventry to 13th place, a rare Yuletide height. In the last two seasons they have embarked on a holiday programme in the bottom four and survived with relative comfort so this year, assuming they cope with the African Nations' Cup absence of their Moroccan pair, a prosperous start to the century looks assured.

Goals: McAllister (7) 1-0; Hadji (40) 2-0; Ljungberg (65) 2-1; Keane (71) 3-1; Suker (85) 3-2.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Telfer, Breen, Williams, Froggatt; Chippo, (Gustafsson, 90) Palmer, McAllister, Hadji; Keane, (Whelan, 81) Roussel. Substitutes not used: Norman, Eustace, Ogrizovic (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Ljungberg, Grimandi (Suker, 60), Petit, Overmars; Henry, Kanu. Substitutes not used: Barrett, Luzhny, Silvinho, Manninger (gk).

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: Arsenal: Grimandi, Henry.

Man of the match: McAllister.

Attendance: 22,757.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee