Football: Arsenal's day of blood, sweat and tears
Arsenal 0 Newcastle United 1 (Elliott 44) Attendance: 38,179
Sunday 04 May 1997
As for Arsenal, they embarked on their penultimate match of the season knowing that defeat would almost certainly see the closing of the door on their European hopes and reopen a window of opportunity for Newcastle. They finished with Arsene Wenger admitting: "It was very frustrating to finish in this way. Our fault this season was that we lost the big home games against Manchester United, Liverpool, now Newcastle."
It was not a day to be without the dauntless Tony Adams, who had aggravated an ankle injury while playing for England in midweek. And although he had recovered sufficiently to start yesterday, double vision cost him the second half.
This was a game for the sturdy and determined. Within 15 minutes the names of Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Steve Watson had been taken while Adams had shown perfect self-discipline when coolly taking the ball off Robert Lee and Faustino Asprilla.
Bergkamp infuriated Watson by grazing his chest with his studs, but then came his sweeter side as he carefully curled a shot from Lee Dixon's searching cross-field ball.
Pavel Srnicek, playing faultlessly in the Newcastle goal even though it was his first appearance of the year, soared across and grabbed the ball in mid-air.
Meanwhile, a full-blooded but fair challenge by Adams knocked the breath and apparently the enthusiasm out of Ferdinand, resulting in Newcastle relying more and more on Lee's attacking from midfield. Yet he succumbed to injury, forcing the struggling Ferdinand to stay on and Lee Clark to come on.
If anyone had reason to cry "enough" it was Adams, who suffered a collision on the ground when Asprilla smashed into his face. Hardly any wonder that the match turned into a seething battle with Arsenal seeming to take advantage of Newcastle's negligence in possession. So they considered themselves unfortunate when, two minutes into first-half injury time, Darren Peacock lifted the ball high into the area for Elliott to head home.
When, at half-time, Adams had to give in to his eye problem, Dixon, hitherto outstanding at right wing-back, took a central defensive role with Ray Parlour taking over the right side. But the central defender with the greatest influence was Watson, whose control of Wright was crucial. On those occasions when Wright did have chances, Srnicek was equal to them, while Dixon proved his worth on the Arsenal goal-line in clearing from Asprilla's replacement, Keith Gillespie.
Gillespie's appearance was brief and really only endangered Newcastle's position. Having already had his name taken, he then inflicted a challenge from slightly behind Nigel Winterburn who admittedly looked threatening down the left side and was about to enter the penalty area.
The referee, Martin Bodenham, who was already book-happy considering the predictable intensity of the game, sent him off. Newcastle dispatched Ferdinand to inspire a defence that stood up to 15 minutes of permanent assault and utter frustration for Arsenal.
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