Football: Something to admire but much to be desired

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The Independent Online
Arsenal 1

Everton 1

It took just 13 minutes. Encouraged by a couple of decent headers and a lovely first-time through-ball to Ray Parlour, a tentative chant made its way round the Clock End. "One Johnny Hartson. There's only one Johnny Hartson. . ." Were we witnessing the debut of a future Arsenal legend?

Well, perhaps. Hartson made a reasonable first appearance for his new club, leading the line with coltish enthusiasm. "He's already done more than Kevin Campbell," one season-ticket holder observed after a neat lay-off, which was damning him with the faintest of praise.

On the other hand, he did not look like Les Ferdinand either. The Arsenal manager, George Graham, insists the purchase of Hartson and Chris Kiwomya, who made a brief appearance as a substitute, will not preclude the arrival of bigger names. If so, and informed sources suggest a deal has already been struck to take Ferdinand to Highbury once Queen's Park Rangers know they are safe this season, then it only makes Graham's sudden flurry in the transfer market all the more puzzling.

If Ferdinand does come, he will surely be paired with Wright, which would make Hartson and Kiwomya the first £4.5m strikeforce in reserve-team football (unless one is consigned to the wing, a tactic that has notably failed with Campbell).

Hartson played a full part in Arsenal's bright opening, which saw Ian Wright put them ahead with typical panache, latching on to David Hillier's fine through-ball to volley past Neville Southall.

Sixteen months ago Everton conceded an even better goal to Wright and surrendered. This time there was far more fight in them, and if their tactics tended toward the crude - plenty of high balls and set-piece manoeuvres - it was hardly for Arsenal to complain.

They had nine corners in the first half, and frequently embarrassed an Arsenal defence which, in the continued absence of Tony Adams, looks increasingly fragile. The visitors equalised when David Seaman watched, with the rest of the stadium, as Dave Watson's 25-yarder whistled into the top corner, and chased a winner at least until Duncan Ferguson was sent off for pushing John Jensen off the ball.

But Arsenal are no better at imposing themselves on 10 men than 11. They have seen an opponent dismissed in three of the last five home games, but remain without a Premiership victory at Highbury since mid-October.

Playing fall guy was just about Jensen's most visible contribution to the afternoon, one in which he edged out Stefan Schwarz for the role of anonymous Scandinavian. The lack of midfield imagination is surely the next area Graham must address with his cheque-book, unless Paul Merson, who watched the game from the stands, is expected to put all his troubles behind him. Then again some say Hartson is really a midfielder, so maybe there is method in Graham's madness after all.

Goals: Wright (4) 1-0; Watson (13) 1-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Linighan, Winterburn, Parlour (Kiwomya, 71), Jensen (Morrow, 82), Hillier, Schwarz; Wright, Hartson. Substitute not used: Bartram (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Unsworth, Burrows; Horne, Ebbrel, Parkinson, Hinchcliffe; Rideout, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Limpar, Barlow, Kearton (gk).

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).