Football: Dixon off as capital honours end even

Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online
LONDON'S MOST combative fixture claimed another victim last night as Lee Dixon became the third player to be sent off in successive Chelsea- Arsenal matches. Following Patrick Vieira and Franck Lebouef last year, he was dismissed for two incidents involving Graeme Le Saux as the capital's title challengers slipped further off the pace.

While Arsenal moved up to fourth they have won once in four games, not scored in three and had two players dismissed. Chelsea are faring even worse, from one game fewer they have two points, two goals and are rooted in the embryonic table's relegation zone.

It is a poor return for the millions lavished on the side in transfer fees and wages and there was profound disappointment at Stamford Bridge last night after they failed to take advantage of 30 minutes playing against 10 men.

With better luck they might have done. While Steven Lodge was probably right not to give a penalty for Martin Keown's inadvertent handball from Le Saux's cross, he might easily have given one when Vieira sent Pierluigi Casiraghi crashing in the box.

"I think it was a penalty but I'm sure the referee did his best," said Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea's player-manager, with no hint of disingenuousness. "Next time maybe the decisions will go our way. We played well, we are improving but it is always hard against Arsenal."

Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, whose team incurred 100 bookings and six dismissals last year, said: "Every game with Arsenal is a fight."

Despite the involvement of 19 foreign players, including seven Frenchmen, the match was characterized by the typical close-quarters foot-to-foot combat of an English local derby rather than a graceful display of continental skills.

Last season's four encounters had reaped two red and 26 yellow cards and it took only five minutes for the first of last night's seven yellows to arrive, Keown going through the back of Casiraghi. Tackles flew, midfield was congested and time a rarity. Of the "flair" players Gianfranco Zola initially coped best, linking well with Roberto Di Matteo and finding space where none seemed available.

After 12 minutes he was given too much room to manoeuvre and, from 20 yards, curled a shot towards the far corner which David Seaman did well to tip over. From the corner, Bernard Lambourde volleyed wide.

Chelsea then assumed a measure of control but Arsenal were content to defend deep and watch them pass the ball ineffectually in front of them.

As the half closed they broke out, Dennis Bergkamp playing a one-two with Ray Parlour before being stopped by a fine Michael Duberry tackle and then Anelka going close. The exchanges raised the temperature and Dixon and Le Saux were booked for a contretemps just before the break with the dispute continuing into the tunnel.

The 15-minute cooling off period had little effect with Duberry booked for a foul on Anelka within minutes of the restart. The game simmered, temperamentally, at least, if not in terms of the football. Then Le Saux galloped down the left touchline, Dixon missed his tackle and off he went.

Arsenal pulled in the wagons in familiar style. They survived the two penalty scares, watched Gustavo Poyet flash a header just wide, Casiraghi shoot over and Seaman save well from Celestine Babayaro.

They survived all this and might even have stolen the game when Bergkamp surprised Ed de Goey with a shot that the off-balance goalkeeper cleared with his feet. A goal then would have been undeserved, but typical of champions.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Duberry, Desailly, Lebouef, Le Saux; Laudrup (Poyet, 57), Lambourde (Petrescu, 71), Di Matteo, Babayaro; Zola (Flo, 84), Casiraghi. Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Newton.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Garde, 61), Anelka (Hughes, 76), Bergkamp (Wreh, 90). Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Grimandi.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).