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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK


Arsenal close the gap

Peacock slides in to prevent Diawara scoring for Arsenal

Arsenal 1-0 Blackburn

Arsenal moved to within a single point of Premiership leaders Manchester United, with victory over struggling Blackburn in a bizarre game at Highbury.


Dave Woods sees Arsenal maintain their Premiership challenge
Dennis Bergkamp, on his return to the side after a bout of 'flu, earned the three points with a magnificent goal just before half-time.

But while the Gunners were good value for their win - and their 21st clean sheet of the season - the action was often overshadowed by the ill-tempered clashes between the two teams.

With so much at stake for all concerned, the contest was often close to boiling point and both sides had a player sent off in the second half - Martin Keown for Arsenal and Keith Gillespie for Blackburn.

In an action-packed second period in-form Rovers keeper John Filan kept out a Bergkamp penalty.

But it mattered little as Arsenal moved onto the shoulder of the leaders, although they have played a game more than United.

For Blackburn, though, the defeat leaves them just outside the relegation zone, level on points with Everton.

Anelka out

Arsenal made three changes after Saturday's goalless draw at Southampton, Bergkamp and Marc Overmars returning and Nelson Vivas replacing Fredrik Ljungberg in midfield.


[ image: Blackburn's McAteer (right) tussles with Overmars for the ball]
Blackburn's McAteer (right) tussles with Overmars for the ball
Kaba Diawara was preferred to fellow Frenchman Nicolas Anelka in attack.

Blackburn called up Keith Gillespie for his first start in five games, and gave new 3.3m signing Lee Carsley a full debut in midfield.

Arsenal, with Patrick Vieira in impressive form in midfield, dominated the early stages without finding the breakthrough.

Darren Peacock's desperate diving tackle prevented a near-certain goal when Bergkamp had sent Kaba Diawara clear.

Filan then saved from Vieira and Diawara and Tony Adams blasted over the bar.

Blackburn's only chance of the first half fell to Chris Sutton, who drove just wide after latching onto a loose ball.

But with 42 minutes gone and the Rovers players sensing the half-time whistle, Bergkamp broke the deadlock with a piece of opportunism after a free-kick was awarded to the Gunners just outside the area.

From the set-piece his first right-foot effort cannoned into the wall, but the Dutchman responded instinctively to fire an exquisite left-foot shot past Filan and send the Highbury faithful into raptures.

Filan good

Arsenal carried on where they had left off after the break and only Filan kept Blakburn in the game, with two superb saves in the space of a minute from Ray Parlour's shot and Vieira's header.


[ image: Bergkamp is swamped by his team-mates after scoring]
Bergkamp is swamped by his team-mates after scoring
Keown added to Arsenal's disciplinary woes when he was sent off after 69 minutes.

The England defender, who had been booked in the first half, appeared to swing an arm at Sutton after a clash between the pair and referee Graham Poll had no alternative but to send him off.

It was the ninth dismissal for Arsene Wenger's side this season.

But the departure of Keown did not appear to affect his centre-back partner Tony Adams, who immediately produced a rampaging run into Blackburn territory, only to ruin all his good work by putting his shot over the bar.

Gillespie goes

Any hopes Blackburn had of getting something from the match looked to have been wrecked when Bergkamp was up-ended by Keith Gillespie in the area.

The Northern Ireland winger, who like Keown had already been booked, was sent off as the referee pointed straight to the spot.

Bergkamp had the chance to at last kill off the match - but he failed with his penalty, Filan producing another excellent one-handed save.

Blackburn battled gamely to the end, but they lacked the quality to break down the toughest defence in the country and Arsenal never looked like squandering their lead.

Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn, Parlour, Vivas, Vieira, Overmars, Bergkamp, Diawara. Subs: Bould, Anelka, Grimandi, Kanu, Lukic.

Blackburn: Filan, McAteer, Peacock, Henchoz, Davidson, Gillespie, McKinlay, Carsley, Wilcox, Sutton, Ward. Subs: Flowers, Davies, Broomes, Marcolin, Johnson.

Referee: G Poll (Tring)



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