Football / Premier League: Rovers expose the elite's lack of elan

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . . . 0

Blackburn Rovers. . .1

THE EVIDENCE of this Blackburn victory, their first at Highbury since 1946, suggests one obvious reason why Kenny Dalglish's newly promoted side are consolidating their position among the pace-setters. It is that the Premier League is an elite in name only.

The fact that the other promoted clubs, Ipswich and Middlesbrough, are comfortably placed in the top half of the table indicates that the gap between the highest echelon and what was known as the Second Division is slight. This is hardly surprising since, as the Arsenal manager, George Graham, pointed out, standards will be improved only by reducing the number of teams, and therefore fixtures in the top flight.

The standard of refereeing in the new order is also questionable. It was hard to understand how Mike Reed could book John Jensen for a relatively innocuous challenge on Stuart Ripley and then ignore the reaction of Alan Shearer, the England striker, who thrust his hand into Jensen's throat less than 10 yards from him. In the Premier League it is not only the referees' shirts that are green.

Arsenal, the pre-season championship favourites, will be worried that they exerted so much pressure but created so few scoring chances. Lacking the invention of the injured Anders Limpar, they suffered their fourth defeat of the season. When they last won the title, in 1991, they lost only once.

Their best moments came through Paul Merson, who bounced a cheeky chip off the bar. Then, after a wriggling run by Ian Wright had been blocked out, his shimmy towards goal had a disorientated defence looking as if they had been round in a revolving door once too often.

Yet Blackburn's back four had a solid look. After conceding three goals to Crystal Palace in their first game they have let in just one in the next six. Their midfield is no more than functional but the attack has a pleasing sharpness, as they showed when Ripley's astute pass exposed Arsenal's left flank for Mike Newell to volley in David May's cross.

That goal gave Rovers their second league win of the season against Arsenal and at the moment they are up with the championship contenders on merit. In view of their distressing decline in the latter half of last season, they must be pleased with the insurance their good start has given them. It is likely, however, that the combination of Dalglish's management and Jack Walker's chequebook will be more than enough to prosper in a Premier League in danger of being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Goal: Newell (71) 0-1.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Selley, Bould, Adams, Jensen (Morrow, 86), Wright, Smith, Merson, Parlour (Campbell, 77). Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Blackburn Rovers: Mimms; May, Dobson, Sherwood, Hendry, Moran, Ripley (Price, 84), Atkins, Shearer, Newell, Wright. Substitutes not used: Wegerle, Dickins (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

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