Football: Arsenal's ambitions put into proper perspective

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

Queen's Park Rangers. . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THREE successive wins had Arsenal urging Manchester United to look over their shoulders, but Tonto with his ear to the ground would be hard pressed to detect the sound of pursuit from Highbury after yesterday's scrappy stalemate.

The heavy artillery may be moving up but the leaders are so far out of range that a lunar telescope is needed, rather than a gunsight, to bring them into focus. United are 13 points clear of Arsenal, with power to add tonight, when they play Liverpool at Anfield, and cries of 'Look behind you' are treated with more seriousness at the Palladium panto.

The champions may have slipped of late, with four draws in their last seven games, but none of the would-be contenders have been good enough to take advantage.

Arsenal needed to win this one to justify their claim that they are playing for more than second place. Instead, the physical demands of four games in eight days sapped their energy and effectiveness, and a resolute Rangers defence held them at bay with less trouble than they had expected from oponents who had rattled in 10 in their previous three games.

Arsenal made all the running and would have won had Kevin Campbell reproduced the finishing power which brought him seven goals in four matches over the holiday period. In fairness, he was unlucky when his third-minute header, from an Eddie McGoldrick corner, thumped against the crossbar, but he should have done better when Ray Parlour's flick-on put him through in the inside-right channel, from where he shot straight into Jan Stejskal's legs.

Both chances came during a bright start, the promise of which went disappointingly unfulfilled. David Hillier also went close and Tony Adams had a header cleared off the line by Steve Yates in the period before the play became as leaden as the north London skyline.

QPR defended with discipline and no little skill, with Yates particularly impressive in subduing Ian Wright, yet their preoccupation with defence was such that they offered next to nothing as an attacking force. David Seaman was required to make just the one save, falling to his left to keep out the low 25-yarder which was Les Ferdinand's only contribution of consequence.

For Arsenal, Adams and Steve Bould were impregnable centre-halves, ably supported by Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn at full-back. It was that sort of match. Tired legs and mental fatigue tend to affect forwards, who rely on spring and snap, more than defenders, who can get by on clenched-fist determination.

Unsurprisingly, in such circumstances, the game's best attacker was Parlour, a midfielder whose game is founded on strong lungs rather than a lively mind. Tireless on the right the Romford rambler was at the root of Arsenal's best work, providing a regular supply of crosses which deserved a more productive fate.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Hillier, Jensen (Keown, 70), McGoldrick; Wright, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Miller (gk), Merson.

QPR (4-4-2): Stejskal; Bardsley, Peacock, Yates, Wilson; Sinclair, Barker, Wilkins, Meaker; Ferdinand, Penrice. Substitutes not used: Roberts (gk), Impey, Brevett.

Referee: J Borrett (Ipswich).

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