Grey clouds gather over Graham : FOOTBALL

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The Independent Online
Say it was so George. Say you took money to sign John Jensen, Martin Keown, and all those others wearing red and contributing to this wretched peformance. We might not then think much of the Arsenal manager's ethics, or for the respect he has for supporters and their hard-earned money, but at least it would say something for his assessment of players in the transfer market.

Of course the matter of an alleged £285,000 "bung" given to George Graham in the Jensen signing two years ago is far too grave a matter to be treated so flippantly, although when forced to sit through 90 minutes of this turgid tosh, it was hard to avoid finding relief from a north London landscape offering only dark clouds and despair.

In the guise of professional footballers earning a lucrative living in what some still insist is the finest league in the world, Arsenal were woeful on Saturday. Their opponents were little better, although Leeds at least did have some idea of where theywere going and what they were about. When this is the result of the meeting of two of our best and most successful clubs, then there is little of repute left in the game that would be put at risk by a bung, a bribe, or a snort of cocaine.

If Graham is indeed guilty of accepting secret payments, as some of yesterday's newspapers were claiming, then it is not only new players that Arsenal need to be on the look-out for. The list of possible successors has already begun, and it is not without irony that among those already being mentioned is Steve Coppell, part of the Premiership inquiry team who last week quizzed Graham about the allegations.

Given many opportunities to publically deny accepting money as part of a transfer or money from an agent for anything unconnected with a transfer, Graham has so far declined. It is not looking good for him, and handed the chance to provide some contrasting headlines yesterday, his team flunked it. It was a display as removed from the exciting counter-attacking football that saw Arsenal win at Manchester City as Graham's exotic lifestyle is from the average fan. Its only achievement was in providing ammunition for Graham's detractors, who argue that for footballing reasons alone he has come to the end of the line with the Gunners.

The passing was poor, on occasions atrociously so. As for invention or creativity, there was precious little. But the latest failure does not stand in isolation; there have been many below-par performances in this campaign, even when the side's key perf o rmers - Wright, Adams and Seaman - were all fit and available.

With Alan Smith succumbing to a hamstring pull after half a hour, and Paul Merson still involved with rehabilitiation, an entire forward line was missing, and the responsibility on Kevin Campbell and Mark Flatts to fill the void was too onerous by far.

Had Leeds not taken advantage, they would have been kicking themselves all the way home. They went ahead in their first serious attack when Vince Bartram, Seaman's replacement, hesitated in making his advance from the line, although Keown must also take his share of blame for allowing Phil Masinga the room to stride away on to the through-pass that Gary Speed squeezed out of a challenge with Steve Morrow.

That cameo was typical of the Leeds game-plan: namely to close down and harry and make it difficult for Arsenal to play. Two centre-forwards, Brian Deane and Noel Whelan, were assigned to the flanks, doubling up as auxiliary defenders whenever Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn advanced. Effective, certainly. Entertaining, most definitely not. You could understand Howard Wilkinson's thinking, having come off second-best too many times this season for comfort.

you could just as easily understand why the man on the Arsenal tannoy found it necessary to thank fans for "your continuing support". Just as you had only sympathy for the young Arsenal fan given a ticket for her birthday.

Watching too much of this would put years on her and everybody else for that matter, only the dynamic surges from deep of Tony Dorigo, Whelan's touch and precocity, and the midfield diligence and imagination of Stefan Schwarz providing something to take home.

Masinga, the rangy South African, will remember the occasion more than most, scoring a second goal in quite hilarious fashion as he stumbled past a couple of defenders, mishitting his shot, then finding the ball back at his feet as Bartram failed to collect for a second time. This triggered a frantic, goal-laden last few minutes.

Arsenal's central defenders endured an unhappy afternoon. Quite why so much responsibility is given them to initate attacks when quite plainly they are not the best distributers is a puzzle. Keown placed so many passes to a white shirt that the absent Gary McAllister would have been proud to call the performance his own, although he might not claim the second-half shot which hit the woodwork of that part of the pitch that will now forever be known as the Keown corner-flag.

Howard Wilkinson mused afterwards on the difficulties of combining match-winning football with entertaining football. As the chairman of the League Managers' Association, he also believes the game can ride out its present crises. "I was an insignificant young player at Sheffield Wednesday when the bribes thing was going on there. We were gobsmacked at the time, but the game carried on. It will do so again; it has to when 38,000 turn out to see a scintillating game like this one". Quite - the Leeds manager was wearing a mischievous smile at the time.

Goals: Masinga (23) 0-1, (86) 0-2; Linighan (87) 1-2; Deane (88) 1-3.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Bartram; Dixon, Keown, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Jensen (Linighan, 81),Morrow, Schwarz; Campbell, Smith (Flatts, 30). Substitute not used: Harper (gk).

Leeds (4-1-4-1): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Pemberton, Dorigo; Radebe; Whelan (White, 65) Palmer, Speed, Deane; Masinga. Substitutes not used: Worthington, Beeney (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tilehurst).