Arsenal 1 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

(Platt 18, Flitcroft 89)

Arsenal

Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Adams, Platt, Wright, Bergkamp, Keown, Hughes (Parlour 89). Subs Not Used: Merson, Anelka, Lukic, Marshall.

Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn: Flowers, Kenna (Pedersen 81), Sherwood, Hendry, Gallacher, Sutton, Wilcox, McKinlay, Berg, Flitcroft, Pearce. Subs Not Used: Given, Donis, Warhurst, Croft.

Booked

Wright, Bergkamp, Vieira, Dixon.Sherwood, McKinlay, Pearce, Sutton, Wilcox..

Att

38,086

Ref

M Riley (Leeds).


rsenal were furious about a piece of rank bad sportsmanship which cost them a late goal and a two-point lead over second place rivals Liverpool. Red-eyed and cock-eyed optimists might even argue that Arsenal would still be in the title race but for the injury-time equaliser by Blackburn's Flitcroft.

None of them works for bookies Ladbrokes, who slammed their satchels shut after Manchester United's morning win at Anfield.

Arsenal players were furious when Blackbrun refused to give them proper possession from a throw-in following an injury to Hughes. Vieira had kicked the ball out to allow Hughes to be carried off. But though Blackbrun threw it back to Winterburn, Sutton charged him like a Rhino, forcing the corner from which Flitcroft scored for relegation-threatened Rovers.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, more angry at his own players for not clearing the danger, said: "Fair play is an English phrase, but it doesn't function here anymore. I can do nothing about it, but where does the game go if fair play doesn't exist? It is so important for teams not to be relegated, that they forget these things."

Even Blackburn's caretaker boss Tony Parkes admitted: "Sutton wrong to do what he did. He is a very silly lad a times, a very simple lad. It had taken so long for the injured player to go off, that I think he'd forgotten what had happened.

"I'm not complaining that we scored an equaliser from it because we really did need a point from this game. But obviously it wasn't in the spirit of the game."

Parkes said that Arsenal's Martin Keown exchanged angry words with him as the teams left the field: "He mentioned something about sportsmanship, but I wasn't playing so it was nothing to do with me. There was a lot of lack of sportsmanship going on out there. People want to see tackling, but there was so much rolling around and diving that incensed the crowd.

"I thought the referee lost it and I really don't know where he got eight minutes of stoppage time at the end."

Sutton was one of nine players booked in a match that ended in a loud chorus of cheers and booing from the Highbury fans.

Wenger was right to blame his players for not clearing the ball from the throw. Winterburn, despite his suprise at the changing tactics of Sutton, had every chance to belt the ball into the West Stand.

Winterburn, who didn't do much else wrong, should have also put the game beyond Blackburn 10 minutes earlier with a shot inside the box which Flowers touched against the post.

Arsenal though seemed quite happy to sit on the 20th minute lead given them to by Platt, his third goal in successive matches. The goal was inevitably created by Bergkamp. His cross was headed aginst the post by Keown, and Platt reacted quickest to score.

That seemed more than enough to win a bad-tempered game.

Arsenal still sit in second place, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference and with an easier run in. A victory at Coventry tomorrow will leave them hot-favourites to finish second and claim a European Cup wild card chance.

Wenger said: "Second place is almost as impotant as the first one now. But United's victory in the morning means we already have the Premiership Champions. The best team have won it."

"Blackburn played a really physical game and did it well. I was not too suprised. But we lacked creativity in attack in the second half and I couldn't risk making substitutions for fear they might damage our shape.

"Maybe the players thought they had done just enough. That is why they were stunned at the end, but it has been a good season for us. Nobody at the beginning expected to see Arsenal challenging Manchester United.

"United have won it now. I cannot see them losing three games which is what would be needed to give us another chance. We must now put everything into being second.

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Last Updated: Sunday April 20, 1997 12:31:02 GMT Daylight Time

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