Portsmouth 0 Arsenal 0: Redknapp's lack of festive spirit knocks Arsenal from top of tree

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The Independent Online

Portsmouth failed to score at Fratton Park last night. Nothing unusual about that, they last scored in front of their own fans in September when, memorably, they put seven past Reading. The surprise was that Arsenal failed to score too, for the first time in the Premier League this season. As a result they are no longer at its summit.

Arsenal have never won the Premier League after heading it on Christmas morning. More significant may be the fact they have taken one point from three successive away trips, and travel to Everton on Saturday with Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner as their only available forwards.

"We still have many offensive players," said Arsne Wenger. He added: "You cannot convince me we are in crisis. We have lost one game since the beginning of the championship, if we lose one in the next six months we will be champions. I prefer to be in front but a one-point difference is not a big deal."

This was the fifth successive home blank for Harry Redknapp's side but it was acclaimed by their support as a triumph. In many ways it was. Portsmouth had a plan to suffocate Arsenal, they stuck to it, and it worked. Arsenal, who had won every other Boxing Day fixture this century, rarely tested David James.

That owed much to the performance of the other starting Englishman, Sol Campbell, at 33 years of age a spring chicken to James' venerable 37.

Portsmouth fielded Benjani Mwaruwari and Niko Kranjcar either side of Kanu in a 4-1-2-3 formation that was in large part designed to discourage Arsenal's full-backs from pushing forward. With the midfield trio playing tight to block the centre Arsenal were stifled. Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb were anonymous. Wenger, inevitably, was unimpressed.

"Portsmouth did not play at all in the second half," he said. "They just defended. You cannot play like that every week. It was surprising to see them make 10 at the back."

His criticism irked Redknapp. "Are we supposed to open up and let them rip us to pieces? They played one-up, so did we. We are Portsmouth, they are in the Champions League, let's not get carried away. Five years ago we were playing Rotherham and Grimsby. Arsenal haven't played them in 80 years."

This is what the Premier League has come to. The division's seventh-placed side content to play for a goalless draw at home.

Given the disparity in playing resources, even with Alexandre Gaydamak's investment, who can blame Redknapp? Had his team's home results been better, or their current form brighter, Portsmouth may have taken the game to Arsenal.

The home support largely accepted their team's lack of ambition, as long as there was no lack of effort. On that score they were not disappointed. Redknapp added: "You can't attack when you haven't got the ball and it is very difficult to get the ball off Arsenal. Only Man United come anywhere near them. We stuck in there and had the best chance of the game." Wenger grudgingly admitted: "They did well what they wanted to do. They have an experienced defence, a midfield highly focused on defence, and we were not sharp enough and quick enough to open them up." That will be a worry for Wenger especially as he has no return date for Robin van Persie.

The Dutchman has only played 85 minutes since injuring his knee on international duty in mid-October. His current problem is said to be muscular, but Wenger admitted he did not know when his most intuitive forward would be back.

In his absence Wenger retained the XI which had scrambled to a 2-1 victory over Tottenham on Saturday. Portsmouth brought in two former Gunners, Kanu and Lauren, to join a third in Campbell and a manager who supported them as a boy. At 60, Redknapp is old enough to remember the last time Portsmouth defeated Arsenal, in 1958.

They might have prevented their subordination reaching the half-century mark had Benjani, beautifully released by Kanu in the 74th minute, not taken the ball wide, enabling Gaël Clichy to cover, as he went round Manuel Almunia.

The rest of the relevant action, such as it was, comprised half-chances. For Portsmouth, Kranjcar shot wide in the first half and Benjani tested Almunia early in the second. For Arsenal, Emmanuel Ebou and Tomas Rosicky exercised James in the first period, and William Gallas and Rosicky went close late in the second. "Arsenal are frightening opposition. See how many others will take a point off them," said Redknapp. "It's a great point for us." The latter sentiment was doubtless echoed 200 miles to the north.

Portsmouth (4-1-2-3): James; Lauren, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Hughes; Diop, Muntari; Benjani (Utaka, 81), Kanu,

Kranjcar (Taylor, 76). Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Nugent, Traor.

Arsenal (4-5-1): Almunia; Sagna, Tour, Gallas, Clichy; Ebou (Diaby, 64), Hleb (Bendtner, 82), Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky; Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Diarra, Song.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington)

Booked: Portsmouth Lauren, Diop; Arsenal Ebou

Man of the match: Campbell

Attendance: 20,556

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