Football: Wenger waits on moody Bergkamp

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The Independent Online
THERE WERE questions, lots of them, for Arsene Wenger not least about the fitful form that leaves Dennis Bergkamp with just one goal from eight Premiership outings. The sublime touch is there but no consistent purpose.

Again, Arsenal's manager put it down to fatigue. First the demands of a World Cup, now further calls on the game's best players. "Over the past two weeks 14 of our players have been away," Wenger said. "I think it is ridiculous because many of the matches ought not to be taking place."

Not alone in thinking that there is now too much international football Wenger argues for a system, similar to the Davis Cup in tennis, of European Championship divisions. "We have a situation that isn't fair to the clubs or their supporters when players return injured or tired," he added.

That apart, Bergkamp remains an enigma, hugely gifted, capable of quite stupendous feats but often wayward in application. After scoring a marvellous goal to send the Netherlands past Argentina last summer Bergkamp was anonymous against Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals. When Arsenal put their mark on the championship with a victory at Old Trafford last season Bergkamp's was the least effective contribution.

Bergkamp, at his best, is equal parts confidence and talent, a counterpoint to the the hod-carrying that exists in the Premiership, but he is always more likely to get better marks for artistic impression than unstinting endeavour.

Maybe this is not fair on the Dutchman. However, irrefutably great players - to my mind there are fewer than a dozen in the game's modern history - are always trying to make things happen. Bergkamp comes and goes, his fluctuating mood an irritation.

After Bergkamp had opened them up with a slick pass that enabled Nicolas Anelka to put Arsenal ahead in the 34th minute, Southampton were grateful for his downside. Not a shot on target from open play, no further incisive infiltrations.

That was a relief for Southampton's beleaguered manager, Dave Jones, who has needed all his sunny disposition after a miserable start to the season. "I think we deserved the luck we got today," he said. Luck, a game plan to deny Arsenal space in midfield, effort and some terrific shot-stopping. "Paul [Jones] has had a tremendous week," Jones said. "He was outstanding for Wales against Denmark, played well when Wales won again on Wednesday and he got in the way of everything today."

When Marc Overmars was making life so miserable for young Phil Warner that he was brought off to avoid further punishment - "he's still learning and coming up against a World Cup player was a bit too much for him", Jones explained - it looked as though Arsenal would cruise to a comfortable victory.

Instead, Southampton's dogged resistance, aided by the referee Jeff Winter's indulgence ("200 per cent a penalty", was Wenger's view of Ken Monkou's upending tackle on Anelka) saw them still hanging on when substitute Matt Le Tissier put David Howells through for a 67th-minute equaliser.

Arsenal were left to rue that lapse in concentration and their inability to take advantage of Southampton's patent shortcomings. Happy with his team's performance if not with the result, Wenger felt that they should have killed off a team that arrived at Highbury with 21 goals conceded already this season. "It happens in football," he said. "Players find it easier to get up for some games than others. We had so much of the play in the first half that we got a bit complacent."

This is not the way championships are won, and, in Arsenal's case, retained. No problem of motivation for Wenger when Dynamo Kiev are faced in the Champions' League at Wembley on Wednesday. "I don't think we'll be able to make so many opportunities for goals as we made today," he said ruefully.

The worry for him then is that Bergkamp is long overdue a convincing burst of form.

Goals: Anelka (34) 1-0; Howells (67) 1-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Parlour (Wreh, 81), Vieira, Hughes, Overmars; Anelka, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Bould, Garde, Mendez, Manninger (gk).

Southampton (4-5-1): Jones; Warner (Hiley, 34), Monkou, Lundekvam, Benali; Ripley, Oakley (Le Tissier, 66), Hughes, Howells, Bridge; Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Beattie, Gibbens, Moss (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Bookings: Arsenal: Overmars. Southampton: Monkou, Hughes, Howells, Le Tissier.

Man of the match: Jones.

Attendance: 38,027.