Football: Blackburn hand Arsenal a lesson in commitment and care
Arsenal 1 Blackburn Rovers 3
Monday 15 December 1997
Wenger, who claimed to be unaware that Wright had been spoken to by the police for yelling insults at disgruntled supporters from a window of Arsenal's dressing-room, should think again.
Pragmatism now prevails in football, but this latest incident puts Arsenal's record goalscorer beyond mitigation. After all, this is the club that once parted with a notable Scottish international, Jimmy Logie, at the time their captain, simply because he snubbed Russian opponents following a friendly at Highbury and the club who sacked a defender who was sent off in an FA Cup tie.
There is a temptation to say that Arsenal should deal with Wright in a similar manner. It won't happen of course - his prowess will see to that - but how much more can Arsenal afford to tolerate from this discredited idol? To suggest, as some do, that Wright is as much sinned against as sinning is nonsense. Pleas for tolerance entered in the hope that he would get, and accept, a chance to grow up have not brought about an improvement in his general behaviour.
If the biggest, this is only one of Arsenal's problems. Equally disturbing for Wenger is the absence of spirit that showed itself again on Saturday when Blackburn seized the initiative. A phrase Wenger uses frequently to describe play in the Premiership is "fighting football". It comes across in the form of a complaint, as though Arsenal are bound to suffer against teams who are big on commitment and passion. Wenger was at it again on Saturday, putting Arsenal's failings down to the fact that Blackburn's industry upset the procedures of which his players are capable.
Anybody who observes English football closely will be aware that for all its affluence, the Premier League is not what it is cracked up to be in newspapers and across the airwaves. Where is all this technical improvement people keep going on about?
Not exactly going out of their way to make Arsenal's task easier, Blackburn put paid eventually to the notion that a challenge to Manchester United will come this season from north London. On this performance you wouldn't bet on Wenger's team with someone else's money.
No wonder that Arsenal departed the scene to sounds of derision. Though they were a goal ahead in the 15th minute, when Marc Overmars took crafty advantage of uncertainty in Blackburn's defence, it was soon pretty obvious that they weren't going anywhere. A fitful performance from Dennis Berg- kamp and not much of an overall contribution by Overmars, who still hasn't proved himself as a creative influence in midfield.
Once Arsenal's defenders began to show their age under Blackburn's intelligent counter-attacks there was only going to be one winner. As an example of how carelessness can bring a team down, Jason Wilcox's equaliser was just about perfect. First, David Platt gave the ball away, then Adams gifted it to Stuart Ripley. The cross was nudged on by Chris Sutton and Wilcox drove Blackburn level.
Kevin Gallacher's goal, his 10th of the season, was a cracker. Taking Sutton's flick wide of the stranded Adams, Gallacher whipped a volley into the top far corner.
With Arsenal forced to gamble, Blackburn might have scored two more before Tim Sherwood rounded things off shortly after hitting the crossbar.
When Blackburn lost heavily at Manchester United two weeks ago, Roy Hodgson knew how important it was to quickly restore confidence. "Not much went for us at Old Trafford but a defeat like that can set a negative attitude in motion," Blackburn's manager said. "We had two wingers out there today and although they both work hard, we were, more, or less, playing 4-2-4 with the risk of being outnumbered in midfield. That was the reason for Arsenal's goal, but once our players sorted that out we settled down nicely."
After his achievements abroad, Hodgson himself is settling down nicely in the Premiership. And no complaints from him about the intensity of English football. That's something else for Wenger to think about.
Goals: Overmars (16) 1-0; Wilcox (57) 1-1; Gallacher (65) 1-2; Sherwood (89) 1-3.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Parlour (Vieira, 65), Platt (Boa Morte, 76 ), Petit, Overmars; Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Bould, Anelka, Manninger (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Hendry, Henchoz, Croft; Ripley (Flitcroft, 68), Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox; Gallacher, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Pedersen, Anderson, Valery, Fettis (gk).
Referee: G Willard (Worthing)
Bookings: Arsenal: Parlour, Adams, Bergkamp, Wright. Blackburn: Kenna, Croft, McKinlay, Hendry.
Man of the match: Gallacher.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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