Football: Bergkamp shows his value

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The Independent Online
FOLLOWING HIS outstanding year for Arsenal, and arguably his best for anyone, it has not taken long for the vultures to gather at the prospect of Dennis Bergkamp's fall from grace, which has been as spectacular as one of a number of his goals for club and country last season.

Yet to open his scoring account this time around, Bergkamp has admitted he is struggling to recapture the kind of form that made him Footballer of the Year and took Arsenal to the brink of the Double before a hamstring injury led him to miss the FA Cup final and the decisive Premiership victory at home to Everton last May.

Although he recovered in time to take his place in the Netherlands World Cup squad, there was little time for him to regain match fitness. Indeed he missed the opening match against Belgium before being restored to the side and making an impressive contribution in the run to the semi-final against Brazil, including scoring arguably the goal of the tournament against Argentina.

The theory is that his exertions in France have taken the edge off his game and his manager Arsene Wenger has said he would like to give him more time to recover. But having sold Ian Wright, Arsenal do not have the strength in depth to be able to do that and so Bergkamp has to play his way back.

There were signs in the previous league game at Leicester that some of the sparkle was returning to his game and although he failed to make a dramatic impact yesterday he will probably be pleased that he let no one down in a match of such significance.

Tightly marked by his countryman Japp Stam, the value of having Bergkamp in the side even when he is below his best was plain to see: Stam and Henning Berg seemed constantly aware of the threat Bergkamp can pose.

A growing understanding between Bergkamp and Ray Parlour was quickly in evidence, with a Bergkamp shot sailing just over in the first five minutes.

There were one or two poor first touches and stray passes before he twisted his way past Dennis Irwin to test Peter Schmeichel once more, but generally his presence was more than enough to justify his selection.

It was a testament to his experience and quality that, when with 10 minutes to go Fredrik Ljungberg was introduced for his Arsenal debut, it was Nicolas Anelka and not Bergkamp who made way for him.

A shot into the side netting was the closest Bergkamp had gone in the second half, but ironically, Anelka had been virtually anonymous until scoring what proved to be the decisive goal just before half-time.

A moment in the final minute encapsulated Bergkamp's afternoon when a shot by Marc Overmars came back off Schmeichel and was begging to be put away. Bergkamp was the first forward to react, but his lack of pace saw Berg beat him to the ball to clear United's lines.