Pardew points to Chelsea factor as Arsenal stutter

West Ham United 0

Arsenal 0
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The Independent Football

Five seasons ago the West Ham United manager was in charge at Reading as they chased promotion from the Second Division (now League One). Millwall were heading for the title leaving Reading and Rotherham contesting the other automatic promotion place.

"We kept winning but Rotherham kept winning," Pardew recalled. "The gap was constant at about four points. When a team you are chasing is constantly winning it puts added pressure on you. It can affect the way you play. You feel you can't drop a single point."

As a consequence your game becomes inhibited and you do drop points. That, he intimated, is the effect that Chelsea's perfect start is having on Arsenal and Manchester United, their anticipated challengers. "I'm sure Jose Mourinho is enjoying that," Pardew added.

This pressure, Arsène Wenger conceded, had affected some of his Arsenal players during the attractive but goalless match at Upton Park on Saturday. In the continued absence of Thierry Henry it was the young strikers who felt it most. "We are under pressure because we just need to win," Wenger said. "Thierry can cope with it because he has six years in the Premier League. The young players are under more pressure because they will be compared to Henry. People will say, 'Henry would have scored'."

Wenger's response on Saturday was to hold a lengthy debriefing in the dressing-room in which he sought to accentuate the positives ahead of Arsenal's Champions' League match against Ajax in Amsterdam tomorrow.

With Chelsea already putting one hand on the Premiership, the European campaign assumes greater importance for Arsenal but, Wenger said, "it is not needed to add any more pressure. The team needs support; there is quality there. I am not worried because we will come back."

As well as Henry and the suspended Robin van Persie Arsenal may also be without Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and, after he limped off with an ankle injury on Saturday, Gilberto Silva. They could have done, therefore, with the confidence boost of a first away win of the season but though Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Freddie Ljungberg all had decent chances, it would have been undeserved. West Ham, defending in numbers but nevertheless positive in outlook, were well worth a point and had the referee Mike Dean's eyes been sharper in the 55th minute they would probably have taken three.

Ironically, given West Ham's neat passing football, the incident followed a set-piece long throw. Jens Lehmann, under challenge from Anton Ferdinand, failed to gather and, with the goalkeeper out of position, Nigel Reo-Coker looked to hook the ball in only to hit the outstretched arm of Fabregas. A converted penalty then and Arsenal would probably have suffered their third loss of a still-youthful season. As it is they are 11 points behind Chelsea.

"It is only September," Wenger insisted. "Our aim at the moment is to keep as close as we can and improve as much as we can. We have improved defensively. I am sure the goals will come."

Pardew, meanwhile, can bask in the unexpected heights of fourth place. His team's play and position is a compliment to his management and the influential coaching of Peter Grant. Yossi Benayoun is a real find, Reo-Coker impressively mature, Teddy Sheringham apparently ageless and the defensive partnership of Ferdinand and Danny Gabbidon improving with every game. It is a long way from unsuccessfully chasing Rotherham - and losing to Walsall in the subsequent play-offs.

West Ham United (4-2-2-1-1): Carroll; Repka, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Reo-Coker, Mullins; Benayoun, Etherington (Newton, 84); Sheringham (Zamora, 81), Harewood. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Dailly, Collins.

Arsenal (4-3-2-1): Lehmann; Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole; Fabregas, Gilberto (Flamini, 70), Hleb; Ljungberg, Reyes (Owusu-Abeyie, 72); Van Persie (Clichy, 81). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Cygan.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: West Ham Sheringham, Repka.

Man of the match: Reo-Coker.

Attendance: 34,742.