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Boo-boy Beckham fails to paper over Ferguson's cracks; Arsenal 3 Manchester United 0.

The chorus of boos that resounded around Wembley every time the Manchester United number seven touched the ball could only have meant one thing David Beckham was back in action on British soil for the first time since his World Cup sending-off.

And Beckham's misery, amid the almost inevitable abuse that was heaped upon him, was completed as Double winners Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 win over last season's runners-up in the Charity Shield.

Dutchman Marc Overmars opened the scoring, just as he did on Arsenal's last appearance at Wembley in the FA Cup final, and strikes by Nicolas Anelka and Christopher Wreh ensured any pre-season psychological boost rested in North London.

But however rich the match was with cameo roles the debut of United's record signing Jaap Stam, the return from injury as captain by Roy Keane and the appearances of World Cup winners Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira the spotlight was trained on Beckham .

He remained on the pitch for the full 90 minutes amid a rash of substitutions that seemed to prove that United were more worried by Wednesday's opening Champions' Cup game against Polish side LKS Lodz.

But a free-kick just over the bar was the midfielder's only real contribution of note.

United's fans did their best to lift his spirits, but the Arsenal end delighted in jeering any mistake that the midfielder made and some even brandished red cards to ensure his petulant World Cup dismissal against Argentina could not yet be consigned to the history books.

Yet it is the way Beckham responds to the abuse that will inevitably follow him around the country this season which will show the strength of his young character and go some way to establishing whether his future lies at home or abroad.

At least United manager Alex Ferguson felt that the midfielder needed no protection as he included him from the start at Wembley, despite earlier indications that he may rest several of his key players with Europe in mind.

Nonetheless, both sides showed in a fiercely contested yet below-par opening half that they still had to rediscover their fluency after the late return of their World Cup contingents if they were to confirm their status as European Super League wannabees .

Keane, who last played against Leeds in September before collecting the knee injury which curtailed his season, made his presence felt early on as he fouled Vieira, while five names went into referee Graham Poll's book during the match.

At the heart of United's back four, pounds 10.75million record signing Stam looked comfortable in defence if somewhat less assured in distribution until he was easily pushed off the ball for Anelka's goal.

Up front, only Scholes posed any threat as Andy Cole failed to provide any consolation for the club's failure to sign Patrick Kluivert and Aston Villa's Dwight Yorke.

Instead it was Arsenal, playing at the stadium which will host their home Champions' League matches this season, who dominated in midfield through their French duo as they became the first southern team to win the Shield outright since 1962.

Yet they needed the inspiration of Dennis Bergkamp to open up the United defence in the 35th minute as he and Overmars gave a taste of what Holland had so glaringly missed in their World Cup semi-final defeat by Brazil.

The striker's delicate back-flick from the edge of the area harried Ronny Johnsen into a rushed clearance which rebounded off the leg of striker Anelka and straight to Overmars, who made no mistake with his curling shot from 15 yards out.

Bergkamp almost put Anelka through shortly afterwards, only for Peter Schmeichel to rush out to gather, and was substituted at the break by Wreh.

Yet if the United defence thought they could rest easy with Bergkamp off the pitch, nursing a hamstring twinge, they were wrong.

On 56 minutes, Overmars fed Anelka on the break and the young French striker intelligently found Wreh in an embarrassing amount of space in front of the United goal.

His first shot was saved by Schmeichel's legs but the ball merely rebounded to him and he made no mistake with his second attempt, threading his shot through the hastily re-grouping United defenders.

United battled in vain to get back into the match but it was the Gunners who actually increased their lead with 18 minutes left as the mistakes which plagued Stam's World Cup performances returned to haunt him.

Although he looked to have Anelka well covered, a determined nudge was enough to see off the Dutchman and the striker powered his shot home.

Late on, substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw a shot blocked, while former Spurs striker Teddy Sheringham was soundly jeered by the Arsenal fans when he shot well wide after racing clear.

At least he knew how Beckham might have felt.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 10, 1998
Words:806
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