Crouch and Smith deny Gunners
By Richard Jolly. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Southampton and Arsenal shared two goals and two red cards and took a point apiece from a 1-1 draw at St Mary's, but their problems multiplied.
Peter Crouch and Freddie Ljungberg accepted the congratulations while David Prutton and Robin van Persie will face the recriminations from a tempestuous, but ultimately unsatisfactory, draw.
With a lamentable record of just three points from 14 away games, Southampton's hopes of preserving their Premiership status rested on their home form. But an 11-game unbeaten run at St Mary's has only produced two wins, and they are running out of games.
And they will be without Prutton, their most effective player until his dismissal. Under Harry Redknapp, Southampton may be no pushovers but Prutton's pushiness towards referee Alan Wiley may bring further sanctions.
Arsenal may be aiming for Manchester United rather than Chelsea now, but a setback on the South Coast - culminating in a disallowed injury-time goal from Ashley Cole - makes second place a tougher target.
Starting this game with a trio of suspensions, van Persie added his name to the list of miscreants and he will miss the FA Cup replay at Sheffield United.
So, too, will Robert Pires, injured in the tackle that precipitated Prutton's departure. It gave Arsenal's midfield a makeshift look to accompany a second-string defence who conceded in second-rate manner.
At Highbury, Southampton twice exploited Arsenal's susceptibility at set pieces. They did so again as Jens Lehmann gifted Crouch a goal with an ill-advised charge at Jamie Redknapp's corner.
Saints had almost exploited the uncertainty at the heart of the Arsenal defence in the second minute. Pascal Cygan misjudged an Oliver Bernard long ball, Henri Camara gave chase and the defender's desperate clearance went just past his own post.
The alliance of Crouch and Camara almost produced a goal on the half-hour when the taller man's flick-on was volleyed by the Senegalese, but too close to Lehmann.
The feisty Prutton had hassled and harried the Arsenal midfield, Patrick Vieira in particular, for 40 minutes. But after a late lunge on Mathieu Flamini, he scythed down Pires.
Apologetic for his first offence, Prutton's placatory mood ended with his second yellow card. It resulted in a red card and the red mist and the midfielder had to be restrained by his manager after a touchline dash from Redknapp.
Before then, Arsenal had been restricted to a low drive from Vieira and a hat-trick of attempts by van Persie. Against 10 men, they scored within three minutes, Thierry Henry twisting to set up Ljungberg for a tap-in.
Straight after half time, Ljungberg, van Persie and Henry combined in a typically smooth move. Paul Smith, however, was equal to Henry's shot and Arsenal's one-man advantage was shortlived.
Promising but volatile, van Persie was cautioned in the first half. Seven minutes into the second half, he hacked down Graeme Le Saux. Like Prutton, he could have no complaints; thankfully, he accepted his fate rather better.
And it handed the initiative back to Southampton. Crouch headed the equaliser and powered past Philippe Senderos only to place his shot wide.
Arsenal responded in a frenetic final 20 minutes. Henry, shouldering the burden of a solitary striker, twice shot wide and Ljungberg tumbled over Bernard's outstretched foot.
But the major obstacle to Arsenal was Southampton's rookie goalkeeper Smith. In just his fourth Premiership start, the former Brentford man saved superbly from Ljungberg, Cole and Henry.
Deep into injury time, Cole did beat Smith, but the left back was clearly offside - a sign of both Arsenal's attacking intent and their desperation. They had to make do with a point which, given the predicament of both teams, is not really enough.
|3||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||10|
|7||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||4|
|9||Total Fouls Conceded||13|
Barclays Premier League
|8||West Bromwich Albion||37||48|
|10||West Ham United||37||43|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||37||25|