Football: Arsenal's double downer

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The Independent Online
Arsenal . . . . . .0

Blackburn Rovers. .1

IN AN ugly and poorly controlled match, Blackburn Rovers yesterday completed an early-season double over Arsenal at Highbury, leaving them still aspiring to heights that no newly promoted club, however rich, should rightfully consider. It left Arsenal simply looking poor.

Since their visit to Ewood Park last month odd results had continued to beset this changing Arsenal side, and being the bookmakers' favourites has hardly helped. Conversely, Kenny Dalglish has had the sort of therapeutic month that he rarely enjoyed at Liverpool - success without injuries and his centre-forward confidently and reliably knocking in the goals. And, so far at least, he has not become embroiled in the sort of boardroom politics that keep a 'hands-on' manager away from the real job.

In theory Blackburn's task yesterday should have been fairly straightforward. They had attacking firepower and Arsenal's defence has been caught cold too often for it to be a coincidence. Also Arsenal elected not to have the intimidating Kevin Campbell in attack and brought in a 17-year- old, Ian Selley. Anders Limpar, injured playing for Sweden in midweek, is not considered suitable for the more hurly-burly games and would probably have been omitted yesterday even if fit as George Graham anticipated a rough affair. He was right. It was a raw match in which, not three minutes from the start, a long, piercing pass from the right by Ray Parlour brought Ian Wright possession as he moved into the penalty area. Kevin Moran risked all with an ugly tackle that felled Wright but made no impression on the referee.

Wright continued to be given a fearful hammering by the Blackburn central defenders, though at the other end Tony Adams gave as good as Wright got and the whole game progressively degenerated. John Jensen stood back a little and was capable of seeing the better openings amid the struggle of teams committed to unremitting pace and no backing down. Tony Dobson realised where danger lurked and took Jensen at the ankles, becoming one of the game's five bookings.

For anyone to make ground in possession was clearly going to be a matter of hurdling a barrage of damaging tackles. Shearer had precious few opportunities to turn since Adams was usually solidly on his back. Paul Merson bravely infiltrated from the left side and created a few good attacks but Wright and Alan Smith were always restricted by Blackburn's defensive ruggedness.

Scoring opportunities for Blackburn themselves were negligible. Arsenal pressed them back yet had only one clear first-half chance when Lee Dixon skied a hopeful ball deep towards Smith who, no doubt fearing another clattering tackle, volleyed haphazardly. Shearer might have done better but when he was allowed to run for what appeared to be an offside position, his nerve also failed and, similarly, he shot wide.

Here was another Premier League match with hardly more subtlety than a tank battle. Merson desperately tried to inject something more inventive but was not helped by fortune. Shortly after half-time he gracefully interrupted the incessant flow of barbarism by bending a splendid shot on to the top of the Blackburn crossbar. But in the way of this game, even he was soon made to look foolish. Wright had done well to twist and weave his way through tackles in the penalty area yet when the ball came free to Merson, with the goal at his mercy, he lifted a shot high over.

It was typical of the occasion that when a muddle occurred in the Blackburn defence following David May's stifled back pass, Parlour had most of the goal at which to aim but he, too, found the terracing a more inviting target. That sort of frustration only added to the general feeling of annoyance that always verged on anarchy. The referee seemed unable to grasp the nettle and astonished the home crowd when, after an offensive tackle by Jensen on Mike Newell, Shearer took it on himself to interfere, pushing Jensen. The referee took Jensen's name but only warned Shearer.

Shearer continued to be in the centre of the battle when he attempted to head in from almost on the Arsenal goal-line. He collided with David Seaman and spent a couple of minutes knocked out, probably dreaming of better days. Finally, after 70 minutes and against the stream, Blackburn took the lead when May slipped loose of Steve Bould on the far right side and centred for Newell to side-foot in.

Although Wright narrowly missed deflecting in a last-minute equaliser, in reality Arsenal, for all their pressure, were unfulfilled more because of their own lack of ideas than Blackburn's defensive strength.

Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, I Selley, S Bould, T Adams, J Jensen (S Morrow, 85 min), I Wright, A Smith, P Merson, R Parlour (K Campbell, 76 min). Sub not used: A Miller (gk). Manager: G Graham.

Blackburn Rovers: B Mimms; D May, T Dobson, T Sherwood, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, M Atkins, A Shearer, M Newell, A Wright. Substitutes: C Price, R Wegerle, M Dickins (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Goals: M Newell (0-1, 70 min).

(Photograph omitted)