Football: Dalglish shuns self-indulgent players but every team needs inspiration

Ken Jones sees a principled manager fail to placate unhappy fans with a Wembley win
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players but every team needs inspiration

TOWARDS the end of a match that confirmed Arsenal's domestic superiority something happened to further depress Newcastle United's marvellous supporters.

Getting at Arsenal's veteran defenders when sent on in place of Stuart Pearce with 15 minutes left, his directness becoming immediately a problem, Andreas Andersson set up a chance that Gary Speed drove narrowly wide.

Old players I came across at Wembley on Saturday discussed this incident in a clinical fashion. Having suffered themselves from the cares of football management, one or two were of the mind that Kenny Dalglish could not be faulted for adopting a cautious method. Others felt that Newcastle's manager had passed up an opportunity to appease supporters who yearn for the adventurous football that was played under Kevin Keegan.

Because Dalglish remains true to the sound principles instilled at Celtic and Liverpool that, allied to special gifts, dictated one of the great playing careers, he was never likely to go along with the cavalier if unsuccessful style promoted by his predecessor.

Dalglish's position on playing policy is unquestionably influenced by the belief that nothing permanent can be achieved with self-indulgent footballers. But equally you get nowhere without inspiration which, despite an aggressive second-half rally, was Newcastle's problem at Wembley.

Listening to Newcastle's supporters exhorting their team to attack on Saturday, you realised the extent of their disenchantment. First a struggle to avoid relegation; now defeat without glory.

It was Dalglish's view that his team deserved better for the improvement that saw Nikos Dabizas head against the bar and Alan Shearer strike an upright. "Turning points," Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, conceded, but did they justify the approach Dalglish adopted?

This applies particularly to Alan Shearer, whose only chance came when he pounced on Martin Keown's slip after spending much of the match in disgruntled isolation.

Shearer's trick of backing into defenders wins him many free-kicks in the Premiership, but the referee Paul Durkin, who will be at work in the World Cup finals next month was, significantly perhaps, oblivious to the England captain's complaints, and then showed him a yellow card for a late challenge that floored Tony Adams.

The wry smile that crossed Shearer's face when jeered by Arsenal's supporters was further proof of a sound temperament but without the service Newcastle were unable to provide - they did not get in a decent cross until the 30th minute - he may be less of a threat in France than the England manager, Glenn Hoddle, likes to imagine.

Bearing that in mind Ray Parlour's performance on the right side of Arsenal's midfield called into question Hoddle's decision not to include him in the pool of 30 players from which England's squad for the World Cup will be selected.

Arsenal's most consistent player this season, full of running - in contrast to David Batty and Robert Lee, who made no impact on proceedings - Parlour was unquestionably man of the match. If Parlour does not always exploit the opportunities that arise from alertness and energy - this perhaps suggesting to Hoddle that international defences would not find him troublesome - nobody in the Cup Final showed more initiative.

No matter how much admiration is held out for Arsenal's defenders, their experience and togetherness, they benefit greatly from work done in the first line of trenches by Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit.

Although Newcastle managed to reduce Arsenal's forward momentum by shaking things up in midfield, the game was, more or less, over before they were able to get at an ageing back line and show what might have been achieved with more imagination.

People who watch football in the Premiership objectively, and are not influenced by the exaggerated claims of Sky Television, conclude that many defenders would struggle to see off a door-to-door salesman. This is not to decry Arsenal's triumph, but they were helped on Saturday's mission by glaring positional errors.

Football teams come and go; their fate is sometimes a matter of pure chance. The trouble on Saturday was that Dalglish couldn't think of a risk that was worth taking.