Portsmouth's last two League appearances at Highbury were a long ways apart. In 1958/9 Vic Groves scored a hatrick against Pompey, by the time of their next fleeting appearance in the top division in 1987/88 Perry Groves, Vic's nephew, was in the team alongside Alan Smith who also happened to score a hatrick against them. Between those dates a fabulous Charlie George header featured in a 4th Round F A Cup replay at Highbury in 1970-71. So another couple of decades on and Portsmouth were back. This time they made a match of it and could quite easily have snatched all three points.
Today's line-up saw Gilberto ruled out through jet lag and replaced by Edu, whilst Freddie and Sylvain were rested and replaced by Dennis and Ray. Sol was back to line up alongside Kolo and on the bench we had Graham Stack, Wiltord, Keown, Aliadiere and Ljungberg.
Arsenal started the half poorly and failed to improve. Our French lads weren't at the races before the break and Edu failed to take control of midfield. Dennis and Ray looked our best bets to create or score anything but neither was setting the world on fire. Yakubu Aiyegbeni caused us problems throughout the first half while Amdy Faye looked strong in the tackle. With ten minutes gone Sol was booked by the very wonderful Alan Wiley. From the resulting free kick Sherringham set up Quashie for a shot of no account. At this point we were creating nothing, retaining nothing and threatening not at all. Portsmouth made all the early play. A corner won by Yakubu saw De Zeeuw shoot wide. A rare Arsenal move forward saw Henry win nothing more than a throw.
Finally we woke up when a fine one touch passing move ended with a rasping shot just over the bar from Ray. Yakubu went clean through down the middle but shot straight at Lehmann who caught the shot with ease. Moments later Sherringham was flagged offside just before Jens chopped him down in front of the North Stand. Nice one Jens. Steve Stone kicked Pires up in the air but Wiley only saw it as a free kick. I think it was Vieira who lost it in midfield for Portsmouth to attack down their right, sling in a great cross to the near post for Sherringham to win the race and nod home low. Twenty-six minutes gone 0-1 Portsmouth and it just had to be him didn't it. No more than we deserved though, crap is the descriptive word that springs to mind.
Almost every International break is the same, but why do we seem to be effected more than most? Parlour was doing his best but he needed to be more central where he could effect the game, Edu wasn't bad but he just didn't take the game by the scruff of the neck and Pat was poor in the first half. Henry had a long range free kick deflected for a corner just before Wiley changed his black shirt to a green one. A weak Portsmouth corner was followed by a poor corner from Henry. Berger went down because he was about to be subbed, Smertin replaced him. Quashie went down injured after fouling Vieira, we got the free kick but Pat was spoken too, what was Wiley on?
Pires went down under a challenge from Harper in their box, the result was a yellow card and a penalty. I didn't have a clear view but it looked quite soft at a distance. Until this juncture Henry was hardly sparkling of space but he stepped up and slotted to the keepers right, a great penalty, but as we celebrated it was clear that Wiley wanted it retaken. I was actually watching for encroachment and saw none, but that's all it could have been disallowed for. All I saw was blue shirts moving into the area before the kick, but hey we all know how great Wiley is don't we children. Henry hit the retaken one in the opposite corner, another great pen and this time allowed. 1-1. Stefanovic into the back of Dennis on the edge of the box to the right, a free kick only. Edu's shot was goal bound but headed clear. Dennis couldn't finish off a fast break by Thierry and Robert.
Edu lost it in midfield and a long shot by Robinson went wide. Sherringham fell over his own feet after a great tackle from Ashley, a free kick to Pompey was given as Arsene went ape on the touchline. I'm sure my hands would be a perfect fit for Teddy's neck. A yellow card for De Zeeuw for a foul on Dennis as he broke away. Henry fired over and Ray tackled Zivkovic with a blinder. Portsmouth may not win the League but their team would qualify for a great 'Scrabble' score and they will upset a few teams. Two minutes added time, which is about what it had taken for the ref to change his own shirt. Half-time 1-1.
The two RP's combined to win a corner on our right which Edu took beautifully, Pat climbed high and headed down well, but wide. Pires lost the ball twice more in vital areas in quick succession, it clearly wasn't his day. Some slick Arsenal passing finally showed itself and we started to put together a few good moves. Schemmel chopped Vieira on the edge of their box and was carded, he also gave enough lip to earn another but he didn't get it. Henry hit an Arsenal man in the wall that was all of eight yards away. Henry then had a header tipped over. As with this one the majority of our crosses were being provided by Lauren. Parlour shot from the half clearance when the corner came over. Pat was now looking the part at last having seemingly played himself awake. Dennis was closing down well and Henry was beginning to show a bit.
Freddie on for Edu. A poor call in my eyes as Pires, great player though he is, was a non-event today. At least it now meant that Ray was playing down the middle. Thankfully Yakubu was replaced by Jason Roberts whose party piece amounted to falling down anytime and every time anyone came within 5 yards. Another Lauren cross, another easy Hislop save off the head of Henry. A series of one two's down our left saw Ash win a corner which Pires hit far too deep. Wiltord for Bergkamp, another poor call in my opinion, I know the argument is that Dennis tires but he was far from being the player out of form but Arsene failed to see beyond his usual pecking order. Another Roberts slow motion falling down act saw Lauren carded. Cole then caught a ball off the field of play and Wiley, with no flag from his assistant gave a free kick for handball. The man needs a brain transplant.
Ray cleared a dangerous bouncing ball, which was flying in and around our box. Henry's corner was missed by Kolo which was a seriously good chance. Kolo who had been my 33-1 shot for the opening goal should probably have scored the last but didn't. A Vieira break saw Wiltord power into the box but he could only win yet another corner. Two minutes of added time and a chance to make our
feelings felt as Sherringham was replaced by Sherwood. We ended with a whimper when we needed a thunderbolt. Final score 1-1.
Portsmouth look a long way from being a relegation team and may cause a few surprises this season. However they were up against an Arsenal that were so far off the boil that they could only be described as tepid. Mr Wenger has a long way to go to produce a performance that will cause any problems for Inter Milan on this evidence.
But hey, it's Arsene Wenger I'm talking about here, we may have been naff today but he's still very much the man and we, potentially, are still very much the team.