Football: Gunners keep firing blanks

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Derby County 0 Arsenal 0

THERE WAS more than a touch of frost on a chilly afternoon in the East Midlands, but it did not take David Jason to work out the failings of Arsene Wenger's depleted side. Of the Arsenal players who started the match only two, Nicolas Anelka and Marc Overmars, had contributed to their unimpressive total of 15 League goals this season.

That the game would finish goal-free was sadly predictable. Arsenal's lack of firepower was matched by their opponents who have an identical goals-for figure, while the Gunners have conceded just seven goals this season, the lowest total in all four divisions. Derby, meanwhile, employed three centre-halves and two notional wing-backs, although neither Dorigo nor Delap advanced much beyond the half-way line. This was partly thanks to Nelson Vivas, an able replacement for Nigel Winterburn, who pushed into the space left by Derby's three-man midfield.

Renewal is, of course, Wenger's dilemma as he negotiates the inevitable replacement of the old guard. "That's my biggest worry - when they don't play any more," he confirmed. "To keep that spirit will be very difficult. They are the symbols of the real Arsenal, the Keowns, Boulds, Winterburns and Dixons, and they will have to stop one day. When they have their backs to the wall, they are able to respond with tremendous commitment.'

No one showed this spirit more than Steve Bould. Without the Stoke-born colossus, Arsenal probably would have lost, and his performance was the highlight of a day short of them. His distribution and positioning were superb, his dominance of poor Dean Sturridge complete, even though he limped through the last 30 minutes. Ray Parlour, too, had an impressive, typically industrious game. Anelka, although sharp and quick off the mark, too often received the ball with his back to goal to use his pace effectively.

Martin Keown also evidently enjoyed his afternoon. "People like myself and Ray Parlour, we have to show our mettle, and we're enjoying it," he said. "It's a case of trying to keep clean sheets at the back and hoping we can snatch a goal. It's not so different from the George Graham era."

Goalless it may have been, but Derby had chances to score in the first half. One arose after Lee Dixon uncharacteristically pulled out of a challenge with Stefano Eranio on the edge of the Derby box, prompting a 50-yard charge upfield by Lars Bohinen which ended with a powerful shot wide. Paulo Wanchope had a fine 20-yard shot was saved well by David Seaman after 10 minutes, but this was followed by a misguided attempt to chest down a far-post cross instead of stooping for a header.

On the whistle the weary Arsenal players trudged over to applaud their vocal fans. After scoring one goal in the last seven and a half hours, you could almost imagine a new North Bank chant: "Nil-nil to the Arsenal, nil-nil to the Arsenal."

Derby County (5-3-2): Poom; Dorigo, Laursen, Carbonari, Delap, Prior; Powell, Eranio (Harper, 72), Bohinen; Sturridge, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Schnoor, Carsley, Elliott.

Arsenal (4-4-2) Seaman; Vivas, Keown, Bould, Dixon; Wreh (Boa Morte, 77), Parlour, Grimandi, Garde (Ljungberg, 67); Anelka, Overmars. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Upson, Caballero.

Referee: M Reed (West Heath).

Bookings: Derby: Powell, Bohinen. Arsenal: Vivas.

Man of the match: Bould.

Attendance: 29,018.