Football: Sturridge stuns the ruling class

Arsenal 2 Derby County 2
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The Independent Online
The black No 8 controlled the ball in an instant, accelerated away from his marker and unleashed a vicious drive to change the course of the match. Unfortunately for the Arsenal faithful, one of Highbury's goals of the season was scored by Dean Sturridge, not the man wearing the same shirt for the home side.

However, Ian Wright was not alone in coming off second best when compared to the visitors, and it was indicative of Derby's assured display that they left north London disappointed that Patrick Vieira's late equaliser had denied them a victory.

Not that their performance should have surprised anyone. They came into this game in better form than Newcastle had been before Arsenal's triumphant visit to St James' Park last weekend. With only four defeats in 16 Premiership outings and points also gained from visits to White Hart Lane and Old Trafford, their manager, Jim Smith, feels his side have adapted well to life in the top division. "We have been holding our own wherever we've gone in the Premier League," he said.

Solid at the back, where Igor Stimac and Paul McGrath contained Wright and the laboured John Hartson with something approaching ease, Derby never allowed the League leaders to settle into a rhythm. And if Alijosa Asanovic had one of his less influential games, it did not seem to matter as the front pair of Sturridge and Ashley Ward caused the Arsenal defence far more problems than their more illustrious counterparts at Newcastle and Spurs had done recently.

Sturridge was outstanding. Strong, quick and skilful, his brilliant equaliser was a fitting reward for both player and team after Tony Adams had given Arsenal a half-time lead they did not deserve. Sturridge also played a part in Derby's second, his angled header from Chris Powell's cross forcing John Lukic to make a save from which Darryl Powell netted the rebound.

Having scored twice against Leeds on the opening day, Sturridge has missed much of the season with injury. Now, fully fit and full of confidence, the 23-year-old looks poised to become a major striker in the Premiership.

Arsenal could certainly have done with his sense of purpose. Theirs was a tired display, which was perhaps understandable given that it was their fifth game in 13 days. It was also one that illustrated Highbury's lack of depth, and if Arsene Wenger is serious about challenging for the title this season he will surely need to strengthen his squad soon.

The Arsenal manager said he was certain to sign somebody before the end of the season, but thought it was unlikely to be George Weah, because Milan would not let him go.

Only Adams and Vieira - whose memorable strike of his own preserved the division's last unbeaten home record - played close to their potential, and the latter blotted his copybook with a seventh booking of the season.

Wenger, while praising Vieira's contribution, and even tipping him as a possible Arsenal captain of the future, felt he still had much to learn. "He is not an unfair player just a bit naive with some of his tackles," Wenger said. "When he makes a foul it always looks spectacular but it could also be my fault because I am asking him to be aggressive and run hard."

Vieira will be unavailable for Arsenal's next two games because of suspension and, unless David Platt emerges from his current indifferent form, will be badly missed. It might have been thought that Vieira's arrival would liberate Platt, but having scored on the Frenchman's debut, Platt has found the net only once since, and had been substituted during the previous two home games.

He lasted the full 90 against Derby, but this was another anonymous display, neither defensively assured nor creatively inspiring. Listeners to Danny Baker's Radio Five show have been ringing in recently with repeated sightings of Platt out shopping - something that will do little to alter the view of many Arsenal fans that they are being sold short.

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