Souness reaches end of road with Bellamy

Arsenal 1 Newcastle United 0
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The Independent Football

Huddled inside his overcoat, Craig Bellamy was banished to a cold seat in the Highbury stands yesterday after a dramatic row with his manager Graeme Souness and chairman Freddy Shepherd last week that looks likely to spell the end of the striker's Newcastle career. His long-running feud with Souness came to a controversial climax over allegations that the Welshman feigned injury.

Huddled inside his overcoat, Craig Bellamy was banished to a cold seat in the Highbury stands yesterday after a dramatic row with his manager Graeme Souness and chairman Freddy Shepherd last week that looks likely to spell the end of the striker's Newcastle career. His long-running feud with Souness came to a controversial climax over allegations that the Welshman feigned injury.

Beaten by a Dennis Bergkamp goal after 19 minutes, Newcastle found themselves at the centre of another intensely damaging club dispute when both Bellamy and Souness gave separate television interviews to defend their positions. It is understood that Bellamy had refused to play on the left side of Souness's five-man midfield and walked out of a training session on Thursday. By Friday he had told his manager that he was unavailable for yesterday's game because of a hamstring injury.

However, Souness and Shepherd then had a meeting with the 25-year-old on Saturday in which he admitted that there was no problem with his fitness. The Newcastle manager immediately dropped him from the squad and the club will now consider an enquiry from Aston Villa about the player. They are likely to accept around £6m for Bellamy, with Tottenham the only other interested party.

Souness said Bellamy had behaved in "totally the wrong way" just minutes before the Welshman, who has also been asked to operate on the right this season, responded by saying that he would not allow himself to be portrayed as disloyal to Newcastle's fans. "I don't feel that I am doing myself justice if I am played out of position," he said. "I've played 20-odd games out of position for Newcastle. I've tried to keep silent but it had been a long, tough day for me."

There was no comment on Bellamy's immediate future from Souness other than his remark that he was "contracted to the club". But the Newcastle manager could hardly conceal his dismay that Bellamy had decided to make public his views on the disagreement. "I think Craig Bellamy is not happy with the position we ask him to play sometimes and he has gone about showing that in totally the wrong way," he said. "That's why he wasn't involved today.

"He claimed he was injured on Friday and was fine on Saturday. We are trying to create a spirit at Newcastle and I am only interested in having players who give everything. The supporters aren't interested what position you play in, they just want to see you running your socks off."

The latest chapter in a fraught relationship between the two men - which began with Bellamy swearing at Souness when he was substituted against Charlton earlier in the season - did little to help Newcastle's chances on the pitch. Despite a five-man midfield that left Alan Shearer toiling alone in attack, they were reliant on four extraordinary saves by Shay Given to keep out the champions.

The Irish goalkeeper, who had saved twice from Mathieu Flamini in the first minute, could do nothing about Arsenal's winner on 19 minutes however, when Flamini coaxed Kolo Touré's ball into Bergkamp's path. The Dutch striker nudged the ball forward and, holding off Steven Taylor, rolled the ball past Given.

They might be 10 points behind Chelsea, but Arsenal looked a team liberated from the tension that saw them stumble to defeat at Bolton last weekend. Just after the hour, Patrick Vieira strode through the midfield and released Thierry Henry on goal. Given's touch turned the ball on to the post and four minutes later Touré only just poked an Henry corner wide of the goal.

On 66 minutes, Henry fooled the entire Newcastle defence with a dummy that allowed Jose Antonio Reyes' cross to fall to Robert Pires at the back post, but he was denied a simple goal by a brilliant block from Given. Just moments later, Newcastle's £8m signing Jean-Alain Boumsong hobbled off with a hamstring injury that Souness said could keep him out for four weeks.

Henry stumbled over a Reyes cross on 73 minutes when it seemed almost certain he would score. The French striker was put through again by Pires soon after but was denied by Given.

It was a match played with little grace - Touré was lucky that the referee Steve Dunn chose not to penalise his elbow on Alan Shearer in the second half. He was rescued by his opponent's reaction, who barely flinched.

Arsène Wenger has refused to admit that the gap between his side and Chelsea cannot be closed and said that his team consider the pursuit of the Premiership's leaders as a "challenge". "At the moment it seems unlikely but the only thing that we can do is try to give it our very best," he added. For the first time in a while, however, it was his opposing manager who had greater reason to feel concerned.

Goal: Bergkamp (19) 1-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Lauren, Campbell, Touré, Cole; Pires, Flamini, Vieira, Reyes (Fabregas, 89); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Van Persie, Cygan, Eboue.

Newcastle United (4-5-1): Given; Taylor (Hughes, h-t), Boumsong (O'Brien, 67), Bramble, Bernard; Ameobi, Bowyer, Jenas, Dyer, Robert (N'Zogbia, 57); Shearer. Substitutes not used: O'Brien, Kluivert, Harper (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).

Booked: Arsenal Vieira; Newcastle United Taylor, Bowyer, Jenas.

Man of the match: Given.

Attendance: 38,137.

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