Le Saux and Batty stay strictly to game plan

Football: Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Online


Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 0

Blackburn Rovers may have embraced Europe with all the enthusiasm of Michael Howard, but on the domestic front there are signs their season is belatedly gathering momentum. Having emphatically ended Nottingham Forest's unbeaten run a week ago, they claimed only their second away point of the campaign with a determined performance at Highbury yesterday.

In between, of course, there were the remarkable events in Moscow. David Batty and Graeme Le Saux were both picked for this match, the latter wearing a light cast on his left hand, the one which had been broken in the act of punching Batty as the two enacted their own version of the cold war.

For the record it should be stated that Le Saux hit Batty and Batty hit Le Saux yesterday. Both passes were accurate and throughout the game the two managed to confine their sporting activity to football.

Ray Harford, the Blackburn manager, said the club would be making an announcement detailing the punishment for both players today, but contrary to weekend speculation neither would be leaving Ewood Park.

"They were both playing close together as usual and I think they'll feel better for having played that game," Harford said. "They have sorted it out between themselves, and we have sorted it out too - the fines and everything. We've tried to handle it as clean as we can, to be firm and fair."

The ironic cheers that greeted Le Saux's early touches were a welcome distraction from a plodding first half which Blackburn dominated for long periods without creating much in the way of goalmouth incident. Their best opportunity came in the 16th minute when Stuart Ripley, cleverly fed down the right by Alan Shearer, crossed to the near post where Mike Newell's close range shot was well blocked by Lee Dixon.

Arsenal, clearly missing the suspended Ian Wright and injured Ray Parlour, frequently resorted to long balls and the midfield, in which David Platt was anonymous, failed to exert any control. They did improve when an injury to Martin Keown brought Glenn Helder on as a substitute, with Paul Merson moved inside, and Merson gave the half an atypical finale, ending a neat move that involved Dennis Bergkamp and Helder with a well struck shot that Tim Flowers parried round the post.

Even so the announcement during the break that the video screen would shortly be showing first-half highlights was greeted with understandable scepticism.

The home side made a better start to the second period, with Helder a frequent threat down the left and he might have opened his Premiership account with a rasping drive just after the hour but for another good save from Flowers.

The visitors could have won it six minutes from time when Newell's close range header was well saved by David Seaman. Arsenal responded with their own aerial threat, but Platt's header ended up in Flowers' arms.

By the end the large crowd could be forgiven for thinking there were better ways to spend a Sunday lunchtime. The football rarely rose above the mundane, but the referee, Graham Poll, must accept a measure of blame. He booked seven players in a game without a malicious foul, and his overzealous approach prevented what was always likely to be a closely contested affair from ever gaining a rhythm.

Arsenal (4 4 2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Hillier, Keown (Helder, 32), Platt, Merson; Bergkamp, Hartson (Dickov, 79). Substitute not used: Jensen.

Blackburn Rovers (4 4 2): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley, Sherwood, Bohinen, Batty; Shearer, Newell. Substitutes not used: Sutton, McKinlay, Mimms (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).