Rangers arrange their own fall

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The Independent Online

Arsenal, who have been struggling almost inexplicably to score anywhere other than Highbury in recent weeks, found Queen's Park Rangers only too willing to help them yesterday in a Cup tie that was vibrant and even for half an hour, then utterly one-sided. Rangers were officially credited with two own-goals, but actually touched in the first three, after which, understandably demoralised, they had to face up to a rout.

Arsenal, who have been struggling almost inexplicably to score anywhere other than Highbury in recent weeks, found Queen's Park Rangers only too willing to help them yesterday in a Cup tie that was vibrant and even for half an hour, then utterly one-sided. Rangers were officially credited with two own-goals, but actually touched in the first three, after which, understandably demoralised, they had to face up to a rout.

Arsenal, having managed one goal away from home in six matches, scored two in a minute to change the game, immediately after the home team, lying 23rd in the First Division, had their best effort of the day cleared off the line.

It was good to see the tight, atmospheric Rangers Stadium full again, for the club's fall from grace has been sad. In the first season of Premier League football they finished fifth, five places higher than Arsenal, but after Gerry Francis left for Tottenham, decline was swift and financially disastrous.

Rangers fell out of the big league at the wrong time, as its members began to accumulate serious money, and in the last few years they accumulated such losses - £20m and rising - that chairman Chris Wright called yesterday's windfall of £100,000 "a spit in the ocean". On the back of Francis' customarily shrewd buying, they moved in the right direction last season, comfortably placed in mid-table, but an unlucky run of injuries and drawing too often has left them involved in another relegation fight.

The injuries eased suffic-iently for Gavin Peacock, the experienced attacking midfielder, and Matthew Rose to return. Of the former Arsenal contingent, Rose and Chris Kiwomya started, with Steve Morrow - whose career never recovered from being tipped on his shoulder by Tony Adams after the League Cup final in 1993 - and Lee Harper as substitutes.

Eight years on, Adams still wore the captain's armband at the heart of Arsenal's defence. With Martin Keown injured, his partner was Latvian Igor Step-anovs. Silvinho, Edu and Kanu were all absent, and Rangers would not have been unhappy to see Thierry Henry on the bench with Sylvain Wiltord and Dennis Bergkamp in attack.

These two were contained comfortably enough until the extraordinary sequence of events just after the half-hour mark, beginning with Rangers' first corner. Peter Crouch, the 6ft 6in striker with matchstick legs, used his natural advantage to best effect, outjumping the defence and heading under David Seaman, only for Ashley Cole to clear off the line.

The home crowd and players looked to the referee's assistant for a sympathetic verdict, but he had a heart of flint and no romance in his soul; meanwhile the Premiership side broke straight to the other end, where Lee Dixon crossed low and the unfortunate Chris Plummer sliced past Ludek Miklosko into his own net.

Less than a minute later, the cruel fortune was redoubled: Bergkamp drifted wide of the keeper and, unable to shoot, pulled the ball back for Wiltord, whose shot took a brutal deflection off Ian Baraclough and also beat the poor goalkeeper.

It got worse, much worse. Arsenal sat tight until the interval, then pressed forward, Bergkamp wasting two openings without any real reprieve. In the 50th minute Lauren cut open an increasingly vulnerable defence, Cole cut back a cross and, agonisingly, a deflection off another home player, Rose, brought a third goal.

Eight more minutes, two more goals. First Robert Pires took a corner on the right and Wiltord, looking more confident at last, volleyed in off the far post. Pushing forward, the home team were caught again in almost the next attack, Ray Parlour sending Pires forward for another smart finish.

The first Rangers fans made their way home before an hour had been played. Those who remained saw more of the same. Bergkamp might have done more damage, twice, before finally getting a rare goal when he was sent clear by the excell-ent Patrick Vieira for the sixth.

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