Peer adds to Arsenal's misfortunes

Phil Shaw scans Sixfields Stadium for the man who can lift Highbury
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The Independent Online
The search for clues as to the identity of Arsenal's 18th manager had scribes and supporters alike scanning the Sixfields Stadium's first capacity crowd at Northampton last night.

Whether anyone would have recognised Arsene Wenger is another matter, and there were more unfamiliar faces in the visitors' side as they completed the close season from hell with a 3-1 defeat. A fifth loss rounded off 36 hours which did little to vindicate Tony Adams' view that the crisis would be resolved in "the professional way Arsenal do things".

Hard on the heels of their second sacking in 17 months, they surprised everyone, including 2,500 of their own fans, by withdrawing all but a couple of players from what was billed as a first-team friendly.

Amid the tawdry spectacle of Bruce Rioch's demise and the media frenzy over his successor, the reason for the fixture was in danger of being overlooked. It was staged in the memory of Dave Bowen, the former Arsenal and Wales captain who took Northampton into the top flight with a team costing pounds 30,000 in the mid-Sixties.

Bowen lived to see the opening two years ago of the Cobblers' new home, a typically functional modern venue with wall-to-wall maroon seats; all light years removed from Highbury's marble halls. All 7,478 had been sold, a brass band played, and the Chronicle & Echo's back-page splash was headlined: "Sixfields Visit For Cruyff?"

There was no sign of Dennis Bergkamp, let alone his compatriot. After wretched results in the warm-up matches, Arsenal's caretaker management duo of Stewart Houston and Pat Rice appeared to have decided against risking another defeat days before West Ham visit in the Premiership.

In the event, John Hartson headed in Glenn Helder's cross as early as the sixth minute. But Arsenal's Lee Harper, whose inclusion hinted that John Lukic was being held back to deputise for the injured David Seaman on Saturday, was much the busier keeper as the enterprising Third Division team spurned a spate of chances.

Paul Merson and Paul Shaw both hit the woodwork, as had Northampton's Alistair Gibb in the first half, before Arsenal's misfortunes continued midway through the second period.

Ian Clarkson equalised with a penalty harshly awarded against Gavin McGowan and within two minutes Christian Lee swept in the second after a corner needlessly conceded by Harper. Dean Peer's 82nd-minute goal ensured the same scoreline as in a famous FA Cup upset of 1958. Bowen,who skippered the Gunners that day, would have appreciated the symmetry.

Northampton Town (5-4-1): Woodman (Turley, 70); Clarkson, Sampson, O'Shea, Rennie, Maddison; Gibb, Warner (Peer, 79), Parrish, Colkin; Lee (De Vito, 87).

Arsenal (1-2-5-2): Harper; McGoldrick; Rose, Morrow; McGowan, Hughes (Selley 51), Hillier, Merson (Clarke, 78), Helder; Shaw, Hartson (Read, 78).

Referee: T Holbrook (West Midlands).

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