Football: Arsenal's limitations exposed

Arsenal 0 Internazionale 0
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The Independent Online

The heady optimism which has swirled around Highbury during this long hot summer was sharply checked last night as Arsenal's championship pretensions were exposed by an embryonic Internazionale side.

A series of impressive pre-season victories, coupled with the pounds 12m recruitment of Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt, had led Arsenal fans to hope that Bruce Rioch could regain the title in his first season as manager.

However, against an Inter team which has been almost completely re-built, Arsenal looked at least two players short of the finished article, especially in midfield where the old failing, a lack of creativity, was again apparent.

Ian Wright did hit the crossbar at either end of the game but, for the bulk of it, Inter's midfield were the stronger unit, although Arsenal's reknowned defence allowed them few chances.

This disappointing match may, however, be no bad thing as far as Rioch is concerned. He is less than two months into the job and would not have welcomed the prospect of going into the Premiership campaign on a wave of misplaced expectation.

Rioch has certainly not talked of championships and last night he reiterated: "There is a lot of work to do in adjusting the style of the team, a lot of team-building.

"I hoped we learned from tonight but I can take heart from the first 3 minutes when we had our best spell."

As it is, Rioch will now renew his search for a left-sided midfielder to replace Stefan Schwarz. Apart from those opening exchanges Arsenal were second best to an Inter midfield into which Paul Ince appears to have fitted very quickly.

Ottavio Bianchi, the Inter manager, said afterwards that Ince "should not have played as he had breathing problems. But he showed what he could do, he showed his worth".

Alongside Ince - who was booed throughout - was Javier Zennetti, Argentina's outstanding performer in the recent Copa America, and the experienced Nicola Berti.

When Roberto Carlos, Brazil's richly talented left-flank player, joins the team, Inter's midfield will be formidable indeed.

Arsenal could only offer Platt and John Jensen in central midfield with Ray Parlour and Paul Merson on the flanks. They were not helped when first Platt, then Merson, limped out of the game. Platt's departure, just 1 days before the Premiership opens, was worrying.

A deep-seated hamstring injury has prevented Platt completing more than one match in pre-season and, though this departure was just a precaution after he developed a knee niggle on Wednesday, he is struggling to achieve match-fitness.

Merson, who had looked very sharp, fully justifying Rioch's high early opinion of him, had turned over an ankle. His exit was also precautionary.

Bergkamp, making his Highbury debut, played slightly behind Wright. Apart from one early combination they did not link well and Rioch admitted they needed to play closer together.

Bergkamp, playing against his former club, disappeared in the second period though Wright, as ever, kept at it despite the poor service. He hit the bar after six minutes when Ince missed a clearance, and did so again with 12 minutes left after Martin Keown had flicked on Glenn Helder's corner. But they failed to up the tempo in the second half, despite the pleas of Tony Adams, and Inter, fielding seven new signings, would have won the game but for David Seaman who twice denied Marco Del Vecchio in the last five minutes.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Platt (Hillier, 31), Jensen (Keown, 7), Merson (Helder, 62); Bergkamp; Wright.

Internazionale (3-5-1-2): Pagliuca; Paganin (Seno, 71), Fresi, Festa; Zanetti, Ince, Berti (Manicone, 82), Centofanti (Bergomi, h-t); Carbone (Bianchi, h-t); Rambert (Del Vecchio, h-t), Ganz.

Referee: D Gallacher (Banbury).