Football: Musselwhite rises to the occasion

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Under Arsene Wenger's strict regime Arsenal's players drink nothing stronger than fruit juice on the premises at Highbury but this morning they will awake with something painfully close to a hangover having failed to overcome a battling FA Cup third round performance by Port Vale, whose goalkeeper, Paul Musselwhite even upstaged England's David Seaman.

Vale had looked upon the visit to London as a winter break; something to take the mind off things. Things like losing their last six matches in the First Division and having to call on players most doctors would have signed off work. The prospect of getting as far as the fifth round, which they achieved two seasons ago was not preoccupying their attention.

Being deprived of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and David Platt, all injured, and the suspended Ian Wright, possibly led to Arsenal's immediate decision to encourage Martin Keown and Steve Bould to go forward in search of instant advantage. Vale absorbed a huge amount of early pressure before seriously crossing into the Arsenal half. But having survived that, their confidence rose like the gathering gale.

Ian Bogie, the former Newcastle player whose talent has never been matched by achievement, began to impose himself in midfield, several times slicing through the Arsenal defence with bright passes that changed Bould and Keown's minds about adventure. Bogie was not only effective in questioning Arsenal's creative superiority but was prepared to defend with similar determination, tackling back splendidly and importantly, particularly when Marc Overmars threatened to restore Arsenal's early promise.

So Arsenal found themselves frustrated, battered by some rugged challenges and not helped by the waywardness of their shooting. Meanwhile, Vale were greatly encouraged when Mark Snijders opened up the Arsenal defence before Gareth Ainsworth centred, leaving the home defence turning too slowly. Tony Naylor beat David Seaman but from a pace offside.

Although Patrick Vieira twice drew fine deflections from Musselwhite, by and large Arsenal's finishing remained less penetrative than that of Vale's Naylor who continually caused mischief in the Arsenal penalty area. So much so, that a a match that had started out seemingly to have only one outcome became a cup tie of traditional quality with the underdogs barking incessantly and Arsenal unable to show much of their pedigree.

Seaman's hesitancy as he just about turned a curling free-kick from Andy Porter round the post for a corner was indicative of Arsenal's worries that hopeful runs at the Vale defence by Nicholas Anelka and Ray Parlour early in the second half failed to dispel. A perfectly timed recovery tackle by Allen Tankard on Parlour and a tip over the bar by Musselwhite from substitute Stephen Hughes enabled Vale to retain their hope, but the likelihood of a successful Arsenal breakaway lurked in their minds.

It should have come about when Dennis Bergkamp broke away on a 40-yard run but his shot was screwed harmlessly across the face of the goal.

In an effort to avoid the draw that was becoming ever more likely, Wenger withdrew the generally poor Anelka and earnest but unrewarded Parlour, sending on Christopher Reh and Luis Boa Morte, but only Bergkamp was the enduring threat to Vale achieving the deserved replay. Thanks to three crucial saves by Musselwhite in the last five minutes, denying Boa Morte, Bergkamp and Hughes, that reward was theirs.

It was one also thoroughly deserved by Vale's long-serving manager John Rudge.