Arsenal need Wright to return

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The Independent Online
Arsenal 0 Liverpool 0

Arsenal's final Premiership game at home to Bolton is beginning to take on an uncomfortable sweatiness.

After a performance long on effort and short on effectiveness, victory on Sunday now looks essential for them if they are to secure the last place in Europe next season.

Their prospects of improving a scoring record of just one goal in their last four games may depend upon the fitness of Ian Wright, absent last night with the groin injury he suffered in scoring from the penalty spot at Blackburn last weekend.

Asked whether Wright would be fit to face a side already doomed to an immediate return to the First Division, Arsenal's manager, Bruce Rioch, replied with just one word: "Possibly."

They need him desperately, as Rioch's counterpart, Roy Evans, acknowledged. "If Wright had played, I think they would probably have won," he said. "His pace is always a threat, and it was nice for us that he wasn't there."

The larger part of a 38,323 crowd - Arsenal's biggest of the season - grew frustrated as the home side created and missed a succession of chances, although David James, Liverpool's keeper, also needed to make several important saves.

In patches, Liverpool demonstrated the fluent passing game which has already booked their European passage next season and given them the imminent prospect of an FA Cup final appearance. But their confidence tipped over into complacency as Arsenal pressed the game, and Evans gave them a verbal savaging afterwards, no doubt intended to concentrate minds with their big Wembley occasion looming a week on Saturday.

"We have slipped from being a very good side to a bad side in each of our last few matches. It's happening too often. In the second half we couldn't put two passes together, and some of our defending was dreadful."

That dreadfulness was balanced on the night by Arsenal's haplessness.

Perhaps the clearest chance of the game fell to Wright's replacement, John Hartson, who was given time and space after Paul Merson's pass allowed him to advance unhindered from the right. But the big centre forward - whose progress is being closely monitored by Sheffield Wednesday at the moment - rolled the ball wide of the post after chipping over James.

It was Merson, too, who created another clear opportunity for the home side midway through the half, when his careful nod down at the far post presented a shooting chance for - unfortunately - Martin Keown, who responded like a true defender. It was symptomatic of Arsenal's frustrating evening.

A Tottenham victory at Leeds today will bring them level on points with their north London rivals. And while Spurs would appear to have the harder task in their final match, when they travel to Newcastle, the situation is still far from comfortable yet for Rioch and his men. They need the Wright result.

Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Keown, Linighan, Marshall; Dixon, Parlour, Merson, Platt, Winterburn; Bergkamp, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Morrow, Shaw, Rose.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Scales, Ruddock, Babb; McAteer, Barnes, Redknapp, McManaman, Jones; Collymore (Rush, 68), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Thomas, Kennedy.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).