Football: FA Cup - Arsenal fail to break the tedium

Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
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The Independent Online
BBC had the Winter Olympics, ITV had Arsenal-Crystal Palace. Even the most sports-loving couch potato must have been working on the garden by 3pm yesterday.

These two teams rarely produce good encounters and this, their second goalless draw of the season, was no exception. It might have been more palatable had referee Martin Bodenham not misjudged two penalties, one for Palace after 41 minutes, one for Arsenal on the hour.

"I thought they were both penalties, so it could have been 1-1," Steve Coppell, the Palace manager, said. "But if we'd have gone in front we would have had more to grab hold of in the game. We've not scored for such a long time we needed a break like that."

That first penalty appeal came from Palace's only dangerous attack of the first half. A neat ball from Andy Roberts picked out an equally intelligent run from Jamie Fullerton. However, he was still at a bad angle and going away from goal when Austrian goalkeeper Alex Manninger suddenly clattered into him. Bodenham gave the foul, but wrongly called it outside the area.

Nineteen minutes later, he evened the score. Stephen Hughes ran on to Steve Bould's pass, Roberts came across and took away his legs. Somewhere in the distance Bodenham, who spent most of the match in the centre circle, waved play on.

Not that the referee was the only poor performer. Around him were mistakes galore, most of them by Arsenal players whose eventual frustration was clear. A further blow was a broken thumb suffered by Bould, which will keep him out for at least two to three weeks.

Palace had come for the draw, which might seem strange in the light of their appalling home record, but they did not have much alternative. While Arsenal had Ian Wright and Tony Adams absent injured, they could still afford to leave David Platt and Patrick Vieira on the bench. Palace's decision to drop the out-of-form Andy Linighan for the return to the club he won the 1993 FA Cup for, did not betoken similar resources.

With Michele Padovano, Attilio Lombardo, Neil Shipperley and Paul Warhurst all injured, Palace were forced to play the contrasting pair of Bruce Dyer and Tomas Brolin in attack. One fleet of foot, one quick of mind, but neither a real leader of the line.

Both worked hard, though, as Palace got men behind the ball and looked for the counter-attack. To the chagrin of ITV it was not pretty, but it was effective. Valerian Ismael and Hermann Hreidarsson marked Nicolas Anelka and Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Edworthy swept behind them and Roberts and Fullerton formed a protective barrier in front.

Arsenal were usually limited to long-range shots, but Palace were still indebted to the bravery of Kevin Miller. The goalkeeper, at fault against Wimbledon last Monday, held most shots and reacted quickly to the ones he spilled.

Arsenal took 10 minutes to raise a shot, Miller denying Marc Overmars at the near post. Although Anelka drilled another shot straight at him, Miller was not extended for another 40 minutes.

He then saved bravely from Anelka and Overmars as Palace survived Hughes' penalty claim and a series of scrambles. However, none of Palace's injured players will be back for Wednesday week's replay and Arsenal remain favourites to book a sixth round home tie with Blackburn or West Ham.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Grimandi, Bould (Vieira, 68) Winterburn; Parlour, Petit, Hughes (Platt, 73), Overmars; Bergkamp, Anelka (Wreh, 81). Substitutes not used: Garde, Lukic (gk).

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Miller; Smith, Ismael, Edworthy, Hreidarsson, Gordon; Roberts, Fullerton, Rodger; Dyer, Brolin. Substitutes not used: Folan, Emblen, Linighan, Tuttle, Nash (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Sussex).

Bookings: Arsenal: Manninger. Palace: Dyer.

Man of the match: Miller.

Attendance: 37,164.