Arsenal demonstrate their new image

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 0 Arsenal 3

It is never easy to watch the tenets of life being overturned. Facts are exposed as falsehoods, beliefs dismissed as superstition, pillars of faith are uprooted and demolished. So spare a moment for the bewildered Arsenal supporter.

Gunnerism was simple. For years the creed was to enjoy your team being hated. Absorb pressure and then strike, the later the goal the better. In a perverse way deadly dull 1-0 wins were cherished more on the North Bank than the days when teams were routed. Arsenal had two functions in life, to invoke universal dislike and to bore.

Which makes Saturday a difficult day to explain away. Arsenal were not just good, they were excellent. Entertaining, too. In fact, short of Newcastle at their Ginola and Beardsley best, it is hard to imagine any other Premiership team surpassing them on the evidence of this. Change indeed.

This match established Arsenal as 24-carat championship contenders in the same way it blew a huge hole in Leeds hopes of repeating their 1992 success. By comparison to the dizzying switches in play before them, the home team, admittedly without the injured Gary McAllister, looked one dimensional and laboured. Even Tony Yeboah was anonymous apart from a half chance in the 13th minute that he looped over.

Leeds had one muzzled potential match-winner while Arsenal had three unbridled forces of inspiration in Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Paul Merson, all of whom scored. By the end the scoreline could have read 0-5 although, to be fair to Leeds, two late headers for Brian Deane might have made it 2-3, too.

The turning point was Merson's goal in the 44th minute. John Lukic made a hash of clearing a back pass and from 35 yards Merson beat his former colleague with a low shot that underlined his speed of thought.

Bergkamp was equally nimble in mind and limb to flick in Steve Bould's header 10 minutes after half-time but the pick was Wright's, a chip of such delicate precision Ernie Els would have been delighted to have executed with his sand wedge at Wentworth yesterday.

"It was executed brilliantly," Bruce Rioch, the Arsenal manager said, "an absolute gem. He's a player who can make something out of nothing. Terry Venables has his own opinions about players but if he had Ian in his England squad, even on the bench, he would have someone who can do the unexpected. Maybe pull off a result for him."

Rioch was extolling Wright's individualism yet it is his partnership with Bergkamp that excites him. "They have struck up a tremendous rapport," he said. "In training, during the week, they spend time together. One Wright is louder than the other but they've hit it off."

Just as Rioch's team appear to be hitting it off with the neutral. There were still chants of "Boring, boring Arsenal" on Saturday, only this was coming from their own fans. But, then, they are having to make huge adjustments.

Goals: Merson (43) 0-1; Bergkamp (55) 0-2; Wright (85) 0-3.

Leeds United (5-3-2): Lukic; Kelly, Couzens, Wetherall, Pemberton, Dorigo; Palmer, Tinkler (Wallace, 60), Speed; Yeboah, Deane. Substitutes not used: Whelan, Beesley.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Merson, Keown, Parlour, Helder; Wright, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Hartson, Jensen, Bartram (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).