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Gunners Reserves Sink Grimsby

By: Jon Brodkin
Date: 28/11/2001

GRIMSBY TOWN, conquerors of Liverpool in the previous round, found Arsenal a tougher nut to crack last night. Lennie Lawrence's players can now go back to the task of avoiding relegation to the Second Division. For several of the home team it is a return to the reserves which looms.

Arsenal 2 Grimsby Town 0

The visitors were far from disgraced, however, refusing to buckle after Edu's early goal, but they never tested Stuart Taylor and were finished off by a Sylvain Wiltord header 16 minutes from time.

Grimsby had arrived intent on slaying another giant. With around 5,000 fans here they were not short of backing, though their recent form did not suggest they would cause an upset. Since that victory at Anfield in early October, Lawrence's side have picked up five points from a possible 27 to slide into the First Division relegation zone. "As long as we keep it respectable I'll be happy," the manager had said.

Within four minutes Lawrence saw his side fall behind to Edu's header. That the Brazilian's first goal in English football came from a cross by the England Under-21 winger Jermaine Pennant highlighted the fact that Arsène Wenger had picked a predictably weakened side. The young goalkeeper Taylor was the only player in the starting XI who began Sunday's 3-1 victory over Manchester United.

Not that Arsenal's team was packed purely with reserves. Juan, a Brazilian left-back, and Stathis Tavlaridis, a Greek defender, may have left the home fans leafing through the programme for information, but Dennis Bergkamp and Wiltord needed no introduction, and nor does Martin Keown, back after injury.

Wiltord had swept the ball wide to Pennant in the build-up which culminated in Edu rising above Alan Neilson to put Arsenal ahead. And though Grimsby responded with bursts of neat passing, they were creating nothing to worry Taylor.

Not that they looked in danger of suffering a repeat of the 9-1 defeat they suffered at the hands of Arsenal 70 years ago - a result which remains their record defeat. Apart from one sprint and cross by Pennant, Arsenal did not immediately threaten to increase the lead.

Some of that was down to the aggression Grimsby showed in defence when they found themselves under pressure, though Arsenal showed far less fluency in their passing than Wenger would have liked.

Bergkamp's moments of inspiration were few and far between, and Edu faded after his bright start. Junichi Inamoto, given a first start long awaited in his native Japan, was making little impact, too.

There was little to excite the crowd with the game producing so few chances. A few off-target long-range efforts were all Grimsby mustered before half-time and Arsenal, though doing most of the pressing, were creating next to nothing.

Their balls into the box were too often below standard, and although Wiltord should have scored with a header from a Giovanni van Bronckhorst cross it was probably as well he failed to find the target, having been flagged offside.

Grimsby brought off Bradley Allen at half-time, replacing him with Michael Boulding, and the substitute showed immediate promise, bursting towards the edge of the area before sending a shot wide of Taylor's goal. Lawrence must have told his players to show less respect and more verve.

It was Arsenal, though, who carved out the next chances as they improved and Bergkamp began to exert far more of an influence. Juan, an attacking full-back in the Silvinho mould, set up the Dutchman for a shot which fizzed wide before Grimsby's keeper Danny Coyne twice kept his side in the game.

First, from Bergkamp's cross, a rejuvenated Edu headed unmarked into his arms. Then the Wales international dived bravely at the feet of Van Bronckhorst after Bergkamp's neat pass had set up his compatriot.

Not surprisingly it was Bergkamp who provided Wiltord's goal, crossing for the Frenchman to head in and end Grimsby's hopes of an upset.

Jon Brodkin at Highbury
Wednesday November 28, 2001
The Guardian

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