Football / Ken Jones on Monday: Arsenal challenge old beliefs with a new attitude

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The Independent Online
THERE is a way of looking at football, sadly out of fashion, that does not aim to decipher the intricacies of strategy and tactics, or surmise deep meanings from even small contributions to the proceedings.

Continually, these days we are confronted with presumptious new knowledge to question the lifelong assumption that there are some simple truths about football that can be taken for granted.

What I have in mind is a notion that was put to the Arsenal manager, George Graham, after Saturday's 3-0 victory against Manchester City. 'It looked as though you were playing with four forwards,' said a television interviewer eagerly. Graham's smiling response was that he would strive to ensure that this did not occur again during his employment. 'I don't know where they get these ideas,' he said later.

Better, he said, to have observed that nobody incurred the referee's wrath for taking man and ball from behind, the contentious edict that has lately come upon us. It seems that before the season got under way, Graham had some cerebal advice for his central defenders, Tony Adams and Steve Bould, who are typically British in inclination, naturally going about their work with aggressive gusto.

Understandably in Graham's mind, this is an important quality but he was at pains to ensure that Adams and Bould applied themselves intelligently. 'If you think the ball can be won cleanly on the side you are marking then go for it,' he said, 'otherwise hold your man up.'

Doubtless as a result of this instruction being repeated throughout the Premiership, there was not the glut of yellow and red cards many imagined. However, this does not persuade Graham that the game can avoid eruptions in the months ahead. 'It will be a contentious issue for some time. There is a lot to be said for the passion of the game in this country and I hope we never lose it.'

What we can assume is that there will not be much of a future for defenders who have been raised on the understanding that it is legitimate to discover how fast opponents can limp.

On the basis of their inability to interfere with Graham's enjoyment of life, an added consideration is that Manchester City are in for another troubled season. 'We may be better than you think,' said their chairman, Francis Lee, last week at York races. Unless something is done to strengthen City's left flank, this may prove to be loose thinking on Franny's part.

Far from giving Arsenal a serious problem, City were out of it long before Uwe Rosler was sent off for dissent - his second yellow card offence - after exaggerating the effect of a tackle in the 60th minute.

It has been a while since Arsenal have begun a new season so well, but Graham was not about to get carried away. Although nominating Kevin Campbell as his man of the match, he stressed his satisfaction with the new signing, Stefan Schwarz. 'All the players love him,' said Graham. 'He seldom gives the ball away and he's a great competitor.' Truly an Arsenal player then? 'Definitely,' added Graham. 'He is going to be a great star here, a hero.'

The obvious hero on Saturday was Campbell, who took considerable advantage of Terry Phelan's mysterious shortcomings, scoring Arsenal's first goal after only two minutes and laying one on for Ian Wright.

They are wrong, of course, those who suppose that football's appeal is intellectual. It's attitude that counts.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams (Keown, 90); Campbell, Jensen, Schwarz, Merson, (Dickov 87), Wright, Smith. Substitute not used: Harper (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Coton; Hill, Curle, Vonk, Phelan; Summerbee, McMahon, Flitcroft (Brightwell 23), Beagrie; Walsh (Quinn 60), Rosler. Substitute not used: Dibble (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).

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