Football: COMMENTARY: Wenger's lesson for Dalglish

Arsenal 3 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Online
THERE was plenty of evidence to support the oft-held theory that football teams reflect their managers at Highbury on Saturday night. In the wake of Arsenal's comfortable victory over Newcastle the media room hosted, in turn, a tense, defensive and charmless Kenny Dalglish, then a relaxed, confident and expansive Arsene Wenger.

It could be countered that managers reflect their teams' positions but, since Dalglish was never effusive in success, and Wenger is always eloquent in defeat, that can be discounted in these cases. It is evident, however, that Newcastle's decline, and Arsenal's rise, has exaggerated their natural inclinations.

This is important as, when the season reaches its highly pressured climax, players take their lead from the top. If the manager looks in control, players will feel confident, if he appears to be losing the plot they will be uncertain.

This was never better illustrated than in the Newcastle-Manchester United title race of two seasons ago when Alex Ferguson provoked Kevin Keegan's now infamous outburst. The wily Scot has similarly attempted to upset Wenger but though the Frenchman has become a confirmed Anglophile it seems this traditional verbal joust is, like FA Cup replays, one of the game's customs Wenger would like to dispense with.

With some managers his deliberate calm might be seen as another card in the game of mental poker, but Wenger's composure comes from a real sense of inner peace. Like most managers he is something of a control freak and he knows that, compared to the championship battles he experienced in Monaco, this one is within his command.

There is a dark history behind his confidence. In France he was up against a Marseilles side later found guilty of such corruption one of their league titles was stripped. Marseilles finished top for five successive seasons with Monaco coming third, third, second, second and third in those years.

"In France," said Wenger, "there was always a doubt over the regularity of matches. It was the time when Marseilles were buying matches. Here I know if a referee makes a mistake it is just a mistake, not because of something else."

Not that the honesty of English referees, whatever the paranoia in Barnsley and Bolton, stops managers using them as scapegoats. George Graham was at it as usual on Saturday and Dalglish could not resist blaming Gary Willard for not giving a penalty when Warren Barton fell theatrically under Steve Bould's challenge at 1-0. With more justification he agreed, when the idea was put to him, that Willard could have dealt more harshly with David Seaman who deliberately picked up a back-pass to stop Alan Shearer opening the scoring.

This, however, was one of the more reasoned moments in a bizarre press conference the nature of which is illustrated by the extracts alongside.

If only his team had been as spiky on the pitch. But then, if he had given Shearer decent support perhaps they could have been. Instead Andreas Andersson and Jon Dahl Tomasson, representing the worst pounds 6m Dalglish will ever spend, sat on the bench.

Newcastle, showing as usual, considerable changes in personnel, did work hard but always with the accent on defence. While Arsenal were denied space in the Newcastle half few players were prepared to venture forward to support Shearer when he made a rare foray into Arsenal's half.

For half an hour they kept Arsenal at bay then cracks began to appear and Nicholas Anelka and Tony Adams both went close. Finally Christopher Wreh slipped a ball through to Anelka who drove it inside Shay Given's far post from 15 yards. The feeling that the game was over as a contest was confirmed 24 minutes later when Wreh slid in at the far post to convert the excellent Ray Parlour's cross.

Patrick Vieira, again awesome in midfield, scored a stunning third from 30 yards to make Barton's well-taken goal notable only for being the first past Arsenal in 13 hours and 43 minutes of Premiership football. Had Luis Boa Morte not had a fourth curiously chalked off late on, it would have been a hammering. At this distance the FA Cup final will either be a bore or a Gunners parade.

Newcastle now face Barnsley in a momentous match at Oakwell this afternoon while Arsenal visit Ewood Park tonight knowing victory will bring them a point behind Manchester United with two games in hand. And Dennis Bergkamp is back.

To cap a disappointing Easter weekend for Ferguson his new horse, Queensland Star, was also frustrated on Saturday when the Haydock meeting, at which it was due to run, was rained off.

Goals: Anelka (40) 1-0; Anelka (64) 2-0; Vieira (72) 3-0; Barton (78) 3-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Garde, Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (M Hughes, 76); Anelka (Boa Morte, 85), Wreh (Platt, 62). Substitutes not used: Upson, Manninger (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Given; Griffen, Dabizas, Albert, Pearce; Barton, Hamilton (Ketsbaia, 60), Batty, Speed; Barnes (Andersson, 66); Shearer. Substitutes not used: Tomasson, A Hughes, Srnicek (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Newcastle: Barton, Albert.

Man of the match: Vieira.

Attendance: 38,102.