Pushy Prutton and Arsenal pay the price

Southampton 1 - Arsenal 1
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The Independent Online

Still they don't learn. A fortnight after Everton's James Beattie let down himself and his team with a sending-off in the eighth minute against Chelsea, Southampton's David Prutton and Arsenal's Robin van Persie attempted to outdo him for sheer stupidity. Each even had the warning sign of a yellow card hanging over them after the first half-hour of the game, but declined to take the hint and followed a bad first offence with a worse one to receive a deserved dismissal. In Prutton's case, that was compounded by pushing the referee while trying to attack a linesman, which will have to result in added disciplinary sanctions.

Still they don't learn. A fortnight after Everton's James Beattie let down himself and his team with a sending-off in the eighth minute against Chelsea, Southampton's David Prutton and Arsenal's Robin van Persie attempted to outdo him for sheer stupidity. Each even had the warning sign of a yellow card hanging over them after the first half-hour of the game, but declined to take the hint and followed a bad first offence with a worse one to receive a deserved dismissal. In Prutton's case, that was compounded by pushing the referee while trying to attack a linesman, which will have to result in added disciplinary sanctions.

Unlike David Moyes's misguided initial attempt to defend Beattie, there were no excuses here. Arsène Wenger warned Van Persie at half-time to be careful, concerned as he was that "when the home team has had a player sent off, the referee's under pressure. If anyone had to behave, it was him".

Within five minutes of the restart, the young Dutchman, already booked for catching Rory Delap with a flailing elbow, launched a reckless tackle on Graeme Le Saux and was off, leaving Wenger demonstrably fuming on the touchline.

Southampton's Harry Redknapp, while grateful to have salvaged a point, was almost as upset with his miscreant as Wenger. "It was an obvious sending-off," he said of Prutton's lunge at Robert Pires' ankle, which followed an equally bad challenge on Mathieu Flamini. "What was he arguing about? Luckily enough, Arsenal had a stupid player on their team as well, who thought he'd get sent off and make a game of it. He's a bit like Prutton, he tends to do stupid things, and they both did."

Each dismissal had a crucial effect on the match and therefore the position at the top and bottom of the table. Southampton conceded a goal to Fredrik Ljungberg within a minute of losing Prutton, but were able to fight back and equalise once the numbers were evened up by Van Persie's red mist.

When the champions needed added attacking impetus after that, they were unable to call on Dennis Bergkamp or Jose Antonio Reyes, both of them already suspended and missing the FA Cup replay at Sheffield United tomorrow, as Van Persie now will. The midfielders Edu and Gilberto Silva are still out and, just as importantly, as recent lapses against the Sheffield side and Bayern Munich have shown, so is Sol Campbell. The one player grateful that Prutton and Van Persie commanded most attention was Arsenal's goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, badly exposed by Peter Crouch's headed equaliser from a corner.

That said, 10-a-side football has much to commend it in opening up the game, and Redknapp was sufficiently emboldened by Southampton's predicament to leave his two strikers on. In the period when each side had a full complement, the game was stodgy, the home side relied on long balls and long throws towards Crouch, and Arsenal lacked the final pass to finish off some neat build-up play.

Van Persie missed two early chances before catching Delap to concede the free-kick that led to Southampton's best chance of the first half. Delap hoisted it, the 6ft 7in Crouch, inevitably, flicked on and Henri Camara forced a smart stop.

Then came the two minutes of mayhem before the interval, with Prutton eventually dragged down the tunnel by two Southampton officials and Ljungberg left unmarked to turn in Thierry Henry's clever square pass.

While Wenger warned Van Persie, Redknapp tried to lift his dispirited players. "They were on the floor," he admitted. The second dismissal perked up the team and the crowd, and two of Paul Smith's five fine saves kept his side hoping.

In the 67th minute, Crouch "a basketball player who can play with his head", according to Wenger, did so to good effect, nodding in Jamie Redknapp's corner as Lehmann wandered vaguely off his line. Redknapp then sent Crouch away past Philippe Senderos, who had been preferred in defence to Lauren, but "the basketball player" miscued.

Needing fresh impetus, Arsenal, with all their injuries and suspensions, could only turn to a bench comprising a goalkeeper, three full-backs and Jérémie Aliadière, who has not played since suffering ligament damage in the Community Shield last August. They dominated the rest of the game, but found Smith in outstanding form. He pushed Ljungberg's header over, thwarted the excellent Ashley Cole and pushed Henry's effort just wide of the onrushing Ljungberg.

Then in added time, Henry fed the Swede for a cross that Cole anticipated too urgently, moving offside before diving to head in. "I thought it was one of those finishes again," said Redknapp, whose side have been regularly undone by late goals from his first game in charge against Middlesbrough.

Unbeaten at home since mid-September, they are making much of a difficult run of home games - Chelsea and Manchester United have still to visit - but the key matches appear to be at home to Norwich and away to Crystal Palace.

"When I came here and we drew 0-0 with Charlton, it was horrendous and I thought we'd got no chance," Redknapp added. "But we're playing OK and if we continue to do that we've got a big chance of staying up." As for Arsenal, too far adrift of Chelsea now, Wenger has admitted that this fortnight will determine the course of their season. Losing two points and Pires was not the brightest of starts.

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