Arsenal’s Strange Side Denies Portsmouth UEFA Cup Place
Portsmouth’s brave bid for a UEFA Cup place came up short as referee Graham Poll, in his last Premiership match, disallowed a 68th-minute effort for offside when Niko Kranjcar’s shot appeared to go in off Arsenal’s Philippe Senderos.
Pompey huffed and puffed in search of a late winner but it was all in vain as a young Arsenal side dug in to earn a 0-0 draw.
Arsenal’s on-loan Brazilian striker Julio Baptista, who scored four goals in a Carling Cup match against Liverpool earlier this season, had enough chances to bury Portsmouth’s ambitions in the first half – but his 40th-minute penalty was spectacularly saved by David James.
Arsenal gave Pompey every opportunity to fulfil their European dreams by fielding an end-of-season side with Jens Lehmann, William Gallas, Gilberto, Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Adebayor to name but a few.
Controversial Poll made a brief pitch inspection before the start after day-long rain in the Portsmouth area, but had no other difficult decisions to make until the dramatic no-goal ruling – especially the clear-cut penalty when Linvoy Primus clumsily tripped Emmanuel Eboue.
But Arsenal were at their wasteful best, despite cutting through the Pompey defence several times in the first half.
Pompey were first to strike at goal. Kranjcar set up Sean Davis from a free-kick and the former Tottenham and Fulham man was
not far off target from 22 yards in the third minute.
But Portsmouth had a spectacular escape four minutes later when a brilliant example of Arsenal’s flowing football took the ball deep into the heart of their defence.
Cesc Fabregas produced a superb touch to put overlapping full-back Gael Clichy in and his shot deflected off Noe Pamarot over James only for Djimi Traore to acrobatically hook the ball off the line.
It looked an even more certain goal in the 11th minute when Baptista worked his way past two defenders into the Pompey area and hit a fierce low shot which hit James on the arm and flew over the bar.
Missed Arsenal chances? How many times has that happened this season?
Arsenal’s Johan Djourou, playing an anchor role in midfield, needed treatment off the pitch after he was crunched by Benjani Mwaruwari when sold short by a Fabregas pass, but Arsenal continued to dictate the early pace.
Kanu, Pompey’s former Arsenal striker, was way off target with a first-time effort but then laid on a fine pass for Kranjcar, whose first touch let him down before he shot weakly wide from a promising position in the 18th minute.
And after Baptista had headed shockingly wide from a Fabregas free-kick with only James to beat, Kanu unleashed a powerful drive which third-choice Arsenal keeper Mart Poom turned over at full stretch.
Baptista went for power with his penalty chance, but James was alive to the direction of his shot and flew to his right and turned it away – to a roar of approval from the home fans who have voted him player of the year.
Hleb missed another chance soon after half-time when he dribbled clean through on the left and shot tamely wide. Then Baptista put yet another header over the bar from yet another Fabregas free-kick.
But the second half was all about Pompey and their efforts to earn the coveted UEFA Cup place – and that disallowed goal.
On 68 minutes Lomana LuaLua, a second-half substitute for Benjani, hit a low drive that Poom could not hold. The keeper also blocked Richard Hughes` follow-up effort and Kranjcar appeared to slip the ball into the net off Senderos.
It took an age for Poll to go over and consult a linesman after Arsenal protested en masse but he came back with the wrong verdict as far as Pompey were concerned.
And they just could not raise the final thrust to breach Arsenal’s disjointed defence.
Match report thanks to ESPN Soccernet