Premier League – Gallas spoils Adams’s Arsenal return

William Gallas scored a late header to spoil the Arsenal return of club legend Tony Adams, whose Portsmouth side were beaten 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium.

2008-2009 Arsenal-Portsmouth William Gallas - 0

Former Gunners skipper Adams’s side were nine minutes from claiming a valuable point when the French defender, who has endured a turbulent season, forced in a header from a Denilson free-kick.

The victory eases the pressure on Arsene Wenger’s beleaguered side, who had drawn their previous three Premier League games. They return provisionally to fourth place ahead of Aston Villa who play on Tuesday.

However, Wenger’s side lacked fluency in a game that plodded instead of fizzing and reflected a flat day at the Emirates, where a smattering of seats remained empty and practically the loudest noise of the day came in praise of Adams.

The Highbury legend is more popular with fans of his old club than his present one, but a gritty point would have helped to silence the murmurings of those who have already given up on his managerial tenure after just two months.

Adams and his opposite number both made interesting selections. The former dropped striker Jermain Defoe and employed the forgotten David Nugent on the right wing.

Wenger, meanwhile, axed forward Robin van Persie and defender Kolo Toure – the pair paying the price for the Gunners’ Boxing Day collapse at Aston Villa.

Emmanuel Adebayor, making his return from suspension, missed two glorious chances either side of half-time.

First he strode through the centre one-on-one, took the ball past David James, but delayed long enough for Sol Campbell – another ex-Gunner afforded a warm reception – to get a toe on the ball before Sylvain Distin hacked it away.

Then after the break, James miscued an attempted punch and presented Adebayor with an open goal. But the Togolese striker’s first touch was heavy and his second sent the ball into the side netting.

With Van Persie on the bench, Nicklas Bendtner started alongside Adebayor up front but was equally unimpressive.

Bendtner is a very untypical Arsenal player, lacking the pace and finesse that have characterised Wenger’s sides.

This was shown up embarrassingly early in the second half after Samir Nasri – briefly making those Zinedine Zidane comparisons seem less far-fetched – manoeuvred into space and sent a superb through-ball to the Dane.

But Bendtner never had a hope of outpacing the excellent Distin and chose instead to dive at the edge of the box. It was blatant, guileless stuff that deserved a booking but referee Alan Wiley kept his cards in his pocket.

Van Persie cannot have been impressed when Wenger brought on a third striker on 66 minutes but opted for the young Mexican Carlos Vela, a man with just six Premier League appearances under his belt.

Portsmouth played their part but created few clear openings. Their best opportunity came to Peter Crouch, who climbed to meet a diagonal cross from the right on 32 minutes but his glancing header came back off the woodwork.

Most of the visitors’ best work was done at the back, particularly through Campbell and Distin. James redeemed himself for his earlier blunder with 73 minutes gone, when Nasri burst through the right channel but the advancing goalkeeper blocked his low shot.

But the veteran’s erratic play resurfaced, fatally, with nine minutes to go. Vela won a free-kick on the left that Denilson swung in, and James failed to make his punch before Gallas snuck in to bundle an untidy header into the net.

The feeling around the Emirates was one of immense relief rather than joy – but given Arsenal’s recent troubles surely even Arsene Wenger would accept three points at the expense of a scrappy performance.

Alex Chick / Eurosport