Football: Lacklustre Arsenal helped by wayward Walsh
Saturday 27 December 1997
Arsenal 2 Leicester City 1
Strictly speaking, the sides were separated by a 25-yard volley from Steve Walsh. But it was unusual in two respects. The ball travelled nearly 25 yards upwards before dropping into the goal. And it fell into Walsh's own goal.
The Leicester captain's mortifying moment came in the 56th minute as he and his defensive partner Matt Elliott - harassed by Ian Wright - chased back to cover a huge punt upfield from Steve Bould. Before the ball hit the ground, Walsh attempted a clearance and sent the ball high over his backtracking keeper, Kelsey Keller, and into the net.
The big Leicester defender, who had decided the outcome of these team's last meeting back in August with an equaliser in the sixth minute of injury time, stared fixedly at the ground as Highbury erupted into a noise somewhere between mirth and celebration.
That put the home side 2-0 up - David Platt's near-post header from Dennis Bergkamp's free-kick had put them into the lead after 36 minutes - but they were unable to close the match down, even though Marc Overmars could claim he was unlucky to have a 68th-minute shot acrobatically cleared off the line by Robbie Savage.
Indeed, they had their manager, Arsene Wenger, pacing the line in uncharacteristic anxiety after letting Leicester back into the game with a piece of generosity which almost matched Walsh's. Bould, presented with the ball deep in his own half, decided a pass back to his keeper was the best option, but the ball was struck with too much force and David Seaman, with attackers uncomfortably close, miscontrolled it. Seaman almost recovered in grand style as he dribbled past Emile Heskey and, almost, Tony Cottee, but Muzzy Izzet was able to take the ball past Seaman's last despairing lunge and square it for Neil Lennon to roll over the line.
The incident did nothing to settle the unease which Seaman has displayed in recent weeks, but Wenger did not blame him entirely. "There were three or four of our players involved," he said. "It was not an easy kick for David to control, and he was not 100 per cent responsible."
Thus undermined, Arsenal - never convincing - became abject and the visitors might, and should, have equalised as they exploited a wind as fluctuating as Arsenal's recent fortunes. The most excruciating moment for the bulk of the 38,032 crowd came in the 82nd minute when Elliott's near-post header from a corner hit the inside of the far post before ricocheting past the startled Walsh on the line before being cleared.
"The last 10 minutes were terrible," Wenger said. "It made me nervous because we were unable to keep the ball. I could feel that we had not the psychological and mental strength to keep our calm.
"We were doing the wrong things, going offside, losing easy balls. That made me absolutely nervous, because it was crucial for us to win."
Not the least reason for that was to steady the nerves for tomorrow's derby match at Tottenham. But it doesn't look good for Arsenal at the moment. They will be without Ian Wright, who started a two-match suspension after this game. They are also likely to be without Platt, whose early opportunism provided the game with one of its brightest moments. The experienced midfielder limped off after 58 minutes with a groin injury.
Arsenal: (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Platt (Hughes, 58), Overmars; Wright (Anelka, 75), Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Upson, Marshall.
Leicester City: (4-4-2): Keller; Savage, Elliott, Walsh, Guppy; Izzet, Lennon, Campbell (Parker, 60); Claridge (Cottee, 69), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Fenton, Arphexad (gk), Wilson.
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).
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