Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . .0
THEY had not conceded a point since Boxing Day at Old Trafford, then dropped one at Norwich in midweek. They had not lost a game in 13 then went down at Highbury yesterday. And Blackburn's trials came in threes: they also lost their Scottish international striker, Kevin Gallacher, with a broken leg.
Not that Blackburn ever looked like capitalising on manchester United's difficulties at West Ham. Alan Shearer was imprisoned by Steve Bould and Tony Adams, and but for several exceptional saves by Tim Flowers they would have suffered even more. Kenny Dalglish's comment that 'You don't concede anything until you are four down with three to go' was putting a brave face on the day and Blackburn's fading chances of catching United.
Apart from the obvious importance of yesterday's match to Blackburn's title challenge, side issues competed for attention. Arsenal were hoping to get themselves in tune for their European Cup-Winners' Cup tie against Torino, which should have meant including Ian Wright, but he was held back for the bigger day. And how the game suffered for his absence.
Will it be Wright or Shearer who faces Denmark? Will it be both? Terry Venables may not have needed a head-to-head between them at Highbury to make up his mind, but it might have added an edge to a game that was tetchy and dominated by Arsenal's defence.
Kevin Campbell's lack of first-touch control always seems more noticeable when Wright is not around to take advantage of Alan Smith's perceptive touches, and it was Paul Merson, playing behind Smith, and Ray Parlour who were required to look for the opportunities.
Solid guard duty by Bould always kept Shearer under control and it was Gallacher who first caused problems. After 25 minutes the industrious Graeme Le Saux drifted the ball high across the Arsenal penalty area. David Seaman lost it as it crossed the area and as Gallacher collided with Bould it was obvious that he was badly hurt. His leg was broken in three places.
It was undoubtedly an accident, but the game was uncompromising. David Batty's aggression raised temperatures but after 13 minutes it had been his willingness to push forward quickly that had almost brought Blackburn reward when Shearer put him through. The formidable Bould intercepted with a typically stern tackle.
Much as Parlour and Merson had ample possession, and Smith headed a shade wide from Paul Davis's well-flighted free- kick, Arsenal's chances were few. Blackburn's rearrangement, with Stuart Ripley joining Shearer in attack, cost them attacking power and understanding.
The loss of Gallacher is a disturbing blow to Blackburn's title aspirations. Not only have his goals been important this season, he acts as an effective foil for Shearer. His absence for much of yesterday's game allowed Bould and Adams to increase their domination.
The pattern of the game had never been attractive and it deteriorated in the second half. Yet Smith's composure remained a highlight. He had forced a spectacular, one-handed save by Flowers from a header following Lee Dixon's deep cross, then, after 75 minutes, he was almost on the goal-line inside the penalty area when he confidently avoided smothering tackles. He curled the ball across the area and Merson guided a shot past the hitherto unbeatable Flowers.
News of United's problems seemed not to have reached Blackburn, for whom the final 15 minutes were a battle against Arsenal pressure and the hopeless task of breaking the grip of Adams and Bould. Indeed, they ought to have suffered a further setback but after Parlour had broken away in pursuit of John Jensen's through pass, his shot between the legs of Flowers drifted wide. Nevertheless, Parlour was the most positive player on a day of much negativity.