Arsenal started with Edu in central midfield alongside our captain and the rest of the team were as you would expect bearing in mind that Gilberto had had a mid-week trip to Korea with the Brazilians and that Keown, Parlour, Lauren and Kanu were still injured. Bobby remained on the bench.
We started brightly, kicking away from the travelling Gooners who included Charlie George, still a much loved regular traveller. ‘Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal’. Durkin was the ref, remember him flashing and his posturing with a red card to Gio at Anfield last year and failing to dish them in warranted numbers to Manure’s thugs at Old Trafford last May? So do I. And although he’s one of the better refs his performances don’t always impress me. The opening shot was blasted well over by Bridges. Southampton opened like an away team, although their back four played fairly high up the pitch they did little more than try to hit us on the break early doors.
There are screens at Southampton but they’re a long way off at the top of the sands behind the goals, they’re small and only show the live TV feed. Freddie found Wiltord wide right with a good ball and we won our first corner. I couldn’t read the Saints shirt number easily – I hate black numbers on red and white! We broke well and Saints countered. Wenger was out early to the touch line, something not to his liking. Beattie won a corner off Cole but there was no real Saints threat. The high ball in for Seaman to take was their mainstay, and although Seaman took all the high balls well he did shank one badly into touch. Henry broke but there was no killer ball. ‘Champions’ ‘You’ll never sing that song’. Henry into the side netting from Olegs cross. Cygan looking cool chesting one back to Dave. Pat was fouled but it was a clean game early doors. ‘Just a small town in Portsmouth’. Pat found Henry but a free kick to Saints, I’ve no idea why and nor had Pat.
Great ball from Cygan, a left to right diagonal pass to Wiltord. Oleg in well. Great classy play out of defence by Wiltord, Edu and Luzhny. Bridges fired wide after a long throw was only partially cleared. Seaman out well. Sylv, Paddy and Oleg combine well on the right, the Wiltord-Luzhny combination is getting stronger by the match and Wiltord had another great game today. Maybe up there with Pat for our man of the match. ‘Gordon Strachan’s Ginger, he wears a ginger hat and when he saw the Nationwide he said I’m having that’. Saints attack cleared by Cole. Beattie who’s on a goal run of late had a fine shot parried well by Dave. Campbell saw off Delap.
Dave took a cross, set up our break but when Wiltord found Henry his soft shoe shuffle slowed down the break. Saints were in the game but we were playing the football. Pat saw off Beattie for a corner, Edu headed clear but Pat was down in our box. I didn’t see the cause but was told that Michael Svensson had a lot to do with it –will we see a TV replay. Vieira looked hurt in any case and needed treatment. We broke, Henry turned his man neatly and I though fairly but it’s was a free kick to Saints. A two-footed lunge upset Freddie, no free kick given. Big move by Arsenal, we knocked it about so much and involved so many players that it looked over elaborate. But when Wiltord got the ball wide right he picked out Dennis on the fringe of their area, the low cross was driven low to the right of Niemi for the Dutchman’s 99th goal with the Club. 0-1 Arsenal. A deserved lead if only just. Thirty-six minutes played.
Our control on the game grew, Henry broke to win a corner which he drilled in low himself, but there was no Fulham defender to convert it in at the near post. ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ Campbell far too good for Delgardo. Cole broke left. Beattie down injured while Pat Rice chatted to Freddie at the edge of the pitch. Freddie wasn’t really in it, nor was Edu but they were not playing badly, just not sparkling. Seaman caught above his head cleanly. Edu was chopped, free kick. Fabulous stuff from Thierry but a poor cross. Paddy fouled badly by Marsden. Two minutes added time. Cygan fouled Delgardo 25 yards out. It was set up to Beattie who hit a stunning shot low into the corner of Seaman’s net. Brilliant goal, awful timing, as the half time whistle blew immediately after the kick-off. 1-1 at the break.
The tannoy at St. Mary’s was clearer in the bogs than in the Northam Stand, a useless bit of information I know, but hey I try to tell it like it was. The heavens had opened on some very naff Saints cheerleaders and it was still pouring down as the Arsenal kicked towards the Gooners in front of Southampton’s biggest crowd of the season 31,797. Edu opened his account well but Henry was feeling his leg. Cygan unloaded Delgardo in the box. Oleg found Henry at the other end, through in the box but the ball zipped away from him. We almost went ahead as Paddy had three good chances one after the other but they were all saved well. Unlucky. Arsenal pressure mounted.
We had work to do at the back though, Campbell cut out some danger with a clever header and a cross from the right was handled well by Seaman. Freddie was kicked up in the air but Durkin gave nothing. ‘Super Bob’ rings out as he warmed up along the touchline. Freddie penalised for shirt pulling, it’s as if Durkin was taking the piss. Dennis won a corner which Edu took. Arsenal were well on top. But not for long. They were well on top until Durkin changed the game when Fernandes (I think – like I said I hate black numbers on red and white shirts) went down in our box under a tackle by Sol. Durkin didn’t hesitate, no matter that he was behind play, didn’t have a great angle, didn’t even look to his assistant this was his chance to turn the game. And turn it he did. A red card for Sol and a penalty. I was at the other end so couldn’t say for sure but he could not wait to get his card out. It was almost as if he knew Arsenal had some big matches coming up. ‘Same old Durkin always cheating’.
As I write this I have not seen a replay but I know the red card will not be rescinded even if Sol won the ball. Durkin is far too self opinionated and pompous so he won’t even consider watching a video of the match. Pat and the other players were livid and gave the ginger joke a verbal roasting. So much so that Henry was applauding Durkin when we restarted 2-1 down after Beattie sent Seaman the wrong way with the perfect spot kick.
Toure on for Edu. Kolo to right back, Oleg to centre back and just three across the middle as Dennis and Thierry remained up front. Thierry broke left. The players are still seething and it was getting rougher. Kolo found Dennis but his chip was too easy for the keeper. Cole to Henry but his tame shot was saved. Vieira also had a shot saved soon after. Kolo saw off Bridges. Free kick wide right for Saints bundled in at the far post 3-1 down. It looked bad.
Marsden into the back Wiltord yellow card. Double substitution: Franny and Bobby for Freddie and Dennis. Seventy-two minutes played. Pires had a header tipped over for a corner, Kolo won another. Saints headed wide with a clear chance. It was helter-skelter pressure at either end with both defences looking ragged at times. Bob found Jeffers, well almost. Dave saved from Beattie. A great Henry shot was very well saved. Just not our day. Our corner was headed clear. Kolo won yet another. Pires has a header blocked on the line but netted from the rebound. 3-2 we deserved that and were not buried yet. Eleven minutes to play.
Time wasting follows. Marsden into the back of Pat, it’s got to be his second yellow but Durkin is going for the Saints man of the match award. Ormerod on for Delgardo. Pat charged in the back again - no yellow. Jeffers is not on the pace while Bobby was pulling the strings almost immediately. Pires to Jeffers but not quite the right ball in the right channel. Another Henry shot was well blocked from close range for a corner. A goal kick was given however as Thierry hobbled off the pitch. Then their half-wit keeper wastes more time by complaining that Henry’s big toe was on the pitch while he was receiving treatment. What a w*nker, he should have been booked for either time wasting or lousy sportsmanship.
Henry’s limping we had nine men effectively at this point. Fernandes, who earlier Ashley had tried to take out, was replaced by Telfer. Pat was chopped again, Durkin played advantage, there was none we merely had the ball. Great cross from the right by Kolo but Henry and Cole got in each others way beyond the far post and screw up. Three minutes added time and the ball boys appear to have left the ground on Strachan’s instructions. A blatant obstruction on Cole by Durkin in their box seals his Saint’s player of the match award. Pat tripped a player and gets a yellow card –how typical! How many times had Pat been fouled – countless – how many players had been booked for doing it? That’s right none. Durkin wasn’t even subtle.
We played well, we were the better team, we got nothing. The Saints played well enough but didn’t deserve three points. Pity was that it could have been a great game without Durkin. Arsene will be seething, as we were.