Rare Campbell screamer helps Arsenal turn tide

Portsmouth 0 - Arsenal 1
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The Independent Online

Where better than the south coast to test Arsène Wenger's claim that the tide had turned? Arsenal duly won - just as they appeared to be floundering in Chelsea's wake - but it was only after they had resisted wave after wave of Portsmouth attacks. In the end it was a spectacular, unlikely strike from fully 30 yards by Sol Campbell that got the champions out of the soup. It was the defender's first Premiership goal since August 2003 and its rarity was in keeping with just how precious these points were.

Where better than the south coast to test Arsène Wenger's claim that the tide had turned? Arsenal duly won - just as they appeared to be floundering in Chelsea's wake - but it was only after they had resisted wave after wave of Portsmouth attacks. In the end it was a spectacular, unlikely strike from fully 30 yards by Sol Campbell that got the champions out of the soup. It was the defender's first Premiership goal since August 2003 and its rarity was in keeping with just how precious these points were.

Campbell and his team-mates celebrated with arms aloft at the whistle. They knew that, with Portsmouth in this kind of intense form, and sharpened by the outrageous swagger of Lomana LuaLua, few teams will come here and win. Indeed, Chelsea are the next visitors, in eight days' time, and the Arsenal manager will hope that the home side reproduce their special brand of committed ferocity. And that they convert at least one of the four clear opportunities they missed yesterday. "Portsmouth should be disappointed," Wenger said. "You have to be strong to beat them." However, he rightly pointed out that his players had also squandered chances.

They predominantly came in a first half in which Arsenal had started with a smooth assurance, only to see that gradually roughed up. Their passing was slick and, with metronomic regularity, they cut through the Portsmouth defence, pushing them deep and forcing Amdy Faye into being a third centre-back. Thierry Henry, with his gossamer movement and quick feet, was the architect.

Indeed, he had received a wonderful reception from fans who magnanimously lauded him for the memorable 5-1 defeat he had inflicted in the FA Cup last winter. If one Frenchman was associated with a beautiful destruction, another brought recollections of an ugly distraction. Robert Pires vied with former manager Harry Redknapp for the vitriol. It was dispensed in equal measure, with Pires targeted for conning a penalty when the sides had met at Highbury last season.

Henry almost provided another distraction on 17 minutes when he out-foxed Arjan de Zeeuw and bore down on goal. However, instead of shooting he tried to find strike partner Robin van Persie, making a stuttering first Premiership start. Jamie Ashdown smothered. Ashley Cole then perpetrated the same error, from inside the six-yard area, while shots from Van Persie and Pires ballooned over.

Portsmouth were dogged, resolute, organised, but also dangerous - and they edged back. First the impressive Gary O'Neill ran on to Steve Stone's punt forward and although he was outstripped by Kolo Touré, the defender got himself into a tangle, presented the ball back to the midfielder - but his low shot was a whisker wide. Touré immediately redeemed himself as he deflected Ricardo Fuller's effort with Manuel Almunia beaten. Fuller was similarly wasteful straight after the restart.

Portsmouth's coaches had seen enough. On came Ayegbeni Yakubu - absent for five weeks - and the tempo was upped. LuaLua grew in influence as he stretched the Arsenal defence to snapping point. After Almunia had pushed out Berger's fierce shot, the Spaniard enjoyed outrageous fortune as he flapped at Stone's effort, only for the ball to strike his nose. He then saved brilliantly from LuaLua's follow-up.

Portsmouth paid. They backed off, inviting Campbell forward, which he did before thumping the ball low and right-footed past Ashdown. Once ahead Arsenal never looked like wilting.

"It was a harsh lesson," lamented the Portsmouth coach, Joe Jordan. And one delivered by the masters. "We're back in the race," said Wenger, with a smile. They certainly are.

Goal: Campbell (0-1) 75.

Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): Ashdown; Griffin, Primus, De Zeeuw, Taylor; Faye (Berkovic, 83); LuaLua, Stone, O'Neill, Berger; Fuller (Yakubu, 55). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Cissé, Quashie.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Lauren, Campbell, Touré, Cole; Pires, Flamini, Vieira, Clichy; Van Persie (Bergkamp, 68), Henry. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Fabregas, Senderos, Hoyte.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Arsenal: Cole.

Man of the match: LuaLua.

Attendance: 20,170.

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