Football: Hartson is hard on City

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The Independent Online

Arsenal 3 Manchester City 1

Three days beforehand, Manchester City had struggled out of the bottom three, but their collective head for heights must be unusually poor. No one could accuse them of lacking spirit, but whether that alone will be enough to keep them in the Premiership is in ever more serious doubt. Arsenal tore them apart and only a series of exceptional saves by Eike Immel stood between the visitors and total humiliation.

With even Bolton boasting a better away record than City, a more resolute approach to their travels was clearly of some urgency. For the first 30 minutes the visitors did all that could be expected of them, tackling with real aggression and restricting almost all the play to the midfield.

Unyielding defence with the off chance of a breakaway goal for Uwe Rosler was clearly the game plan. Alan Ball was reaching for Plan B on the half- hour, however, thanks to a goal by John Hartson of which his illustrious Dutch striking partner would have been proud. Lee Dixon's long pass from close to his own area found Hartson 30 yards out under close supervision from Kit Symons. His first touch controlled the ball perfectly, his second sent it floating over Immel, who had perhaps advanced a yard too far from his line.

Arsenal now exerted such pressure that a second was inevitable, and the only surprise was that neither David Platt, who had two fine chances, nor Dennis Bergkamp, who squandered one, managed to double the total within the next 10 minutes. Platt's second opening brought an excellent save from Immel, but the goalkeeper probably did not even see Dixon's shot after 41 minutes, which roared past his left hand after a pinpoint crossfield pass from Bergkamp.

Only now did City find a worthwhile reply, and they should have gone in at half-time with some hope of a point still remaining. In the 45th minute, Rosler cut in from the left and pulled the ball back to Georgi Kinkladze, no more than four yards out. Somehow, Kinkladze spooned the chance over.

Fifteen minutes and a few choice words from their manager later, City re-emerged with the clear intent of matching the home side shot for shot, and at last Kinkladze began to trouble Arsenal's defence. Within eight minutes, the industry was rewarded, as Gerry Creaney beat Seaman from close range after a typically precise pass from Nigel Clough. Arsenal, though, were also adopting a tit-for-tat policy and within a minute their cushion had been restored. Almost from the restart, Paul Merson strode through the middle before landing his cross from the left squarely on the toe of Hartson's boot on the edge of the six-yard box.

City threw themselves forward, but simply left space which Merson in particular started to exploit.

Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Keown, Linighan, Rose; Winterburn, Merson, Platt, Parlour, Dixon; Bergkamp, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Hillier, Marshall, Hughes.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Immel; Summerbee (Phillips, 85), Symons, Kernaghan, Frontzeck (Hiley, h-t); Lomas, Clough, Kinkladze, Flitcroft; Rosler, Creaney. Substitute not used: Margetson.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).