FOOTBALL: Arsenal's fans teach Kanu the price of loyalty

Arsenal 1 Wimbledon 1; t PREMIERSHIP Wenger's men lose ground on the leaders while at the other end another defeat pushes Watford deeper into trouble
Click to follow
The Independent Online
HERE IS a question for people who complain about the money Premiership players make. Which story gave you most enjoyment: Arsenal's resistance to Nwankwo Kanu's notion that he should be up there with Dennis Bergkamp at pounds 35,000 a week or the news out of Highbury on Saturday that the lanky Nigerian was jeered before the kick off and sporadically during the game.

No contest, I would hope. We hear plenty about wage settlements but, in rounding on a man they have turned into a cult figure, Arsenal's supporters were saying enough is enough. Whatever happened to loyalty? First Nicolas Anelka. Now Kanu, forgetting that Arsenal took a chance on him.

Sixty-one years ago, my father's brother, Bryn Jones, was transferred from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Arsenal for a then world-record fee of pounds 14,000, the transaction at a time of depression causing questions to be asked in Parliament. When a contract ensuring the then-maximum wage of pounds 10 per week was put in front of him, Bryn, a shy man, dared to ask for a sweetener. Hearing it, Arsenal's autocratic manager, George Allison, threatened to put him out of the game. Noticing nicotine stains on Bryn's fingers he growled: "And another thing, you can give up smoking."

Now, it's lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. "I think we are close to an agreement with Kanu," Arsene Wenger said after Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw on Saturday. "The lawyers have to earn their money." Wenger was asked if he felt Kanu's sluggish form could be traced to the negotiations. "I don't think so," Wenger replied. "He is very upset about missing that chance in the second half."

Wenger is confident that Kanu's future is at Highbury but the Nigerian's popularity went down another notch when he headed over from six yards.

Depleted by injuries, sickness and suspension, Arsenal were behind from the seventh minute when Carl Cort was first to Marcus Gayle's low cross, rapping it in off Alex Manninger's legs. From then on they found it increasingly difficult to penetrate the barriers Wimbledon worked to assemble. Leaving John Hartson with only occasional support, they hung on until Arsenal began to take advantage of tiring legs to penetrate space between defence and midfield. "In the second half we gave them too much room," Wimbledon's manager, Egil Olsen, said.

The Norwegian is beginning to make his mark in English football with a style that is not all biff and batter. "We have to improve," Olsen added. "If the priority is to ensure that Wimbledon remain in the Premier League that is only a beginning."

All things considered Wimbledon were lucky to take a point from a weakened Arsenal. Once Thierry Henry equalised in the 61st minute it did not seem likely that Olsen's team could hang on as they came to rely more and more on Hermann Hreidarsson's soundness and Neil Sullivan's goalkeeping.

When Davor Suker came on he missed two good chances and Sullivan twice kept out Kanu, the game finally petering out to Wimbledon's satisfaction.

Hartson succeeded in riling Emmanuel Petit to the point of serious indiscretion. Did the Frenchman spit? "Didn't see it," Wenger said. Maybe he did not hear the jeering of Kanu either.

Goals: Cort (7) 0-1; Henry (61) 1-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Luzhny, Grimandi, Winterburn (Suker, 73); Overmars, Ljungberg, Petit, Silvinho; Henry, Kanu. Substitutes not used: Keown, Hughes, Vernazza, Lukic (gk).

Wimbledon (4-5-1): Sullivan; Cunningham, Andersen, Hreidarsson, Kimble; Earle, Roberts, Euell, Gayle (M Hughes, 27), Hartson; Cort (Andresen, 67). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Badir, Ardley.

Referee: G Barber (Pyrford).

Bookings: Arsenal: Petit.

Man of the match: Hreidarsson.

Attendance: 38,052.