Arsenal rely on Wright

Arsenal 1 Wright 75 (pen). West Ham 0 Attendance:38,065
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The Independent Online
IF Arsenal had failed to respond to their manager Bruce Rioch's demand for an immediate improvement in home form at Highbury yesterday it would have been gross profligacy. West Ham saw Julian Dicks sent off for the eighth time in his career, offered two penalties, one missed and one scored by Ian Wright, and eventually became so desperate that they sent on their 37-year-old substitute goalkeeper, Les Sealey, to play centre- forward.

"What we need", Rioch had said before the season started and repeated in advance of yesterday's match, "is more creativity - more invention."

Having put Glenn Helder into wide midfield at the expense of Martin Keown, he obviously intended well but the impression of industry reigning over inventiveness was not seriously dislodged. Nevertheless, Wright prospered and Dennis Bergkamp's attention to every detail except putting the ball in the net contained that first-touch precision that is an example to all around him.

In recent seasons West Ham had thrived at Highbury but their early season problems meant that confidence in their own half was minimal and momentum in the opposition's rare. Faced with Wright's pestering, including a warning early shot that Ludek Miklosko only blocked with difficulty, they were in retreat from the beginning.

Helder's widening of the Arsenal attack tested West Ham's resources and the limited self- control of Dicks who often found himself facing both Helder and Wright in threatening tandem. In theory it should have been no contest but mainly through Arsenal's negligent finishing West Ham reached half-time concerned but level only because when Dicks did finally haul down Wright as he edged along the goal-line towards the near post, Wright's penalty soared high and wide.

No one could have been more infuriated at the miss than Bergkamp who himself had driven a few shots wide but had several more on target, testing Miklosko's diligence and agility. On a difficult, damp surface Bergkamp's foothold was impressive, causing immense problems for Steve Potts whose manager, Harry Redknapp had told him to impose himself more on matches - chance, here would have been a fine thing.

Bergkamp's overall contribution made it all the more frustrating that early in the second half he contrived to smack an eight-yard shot wide. It was as if West Ham were offering Arsenal a gift-wrapped victory and having their generosity returned unopened. The more so when Dicks, who was involved in a stamping incident at Chelsea earlier in the week, finally did the seemingly inevitable and again felled Wright and this time had to be sent off. Redknapp said he had warned Dicks at half-time not to get involved in rash tackles. "But undisciplined people let you down."

With 15 minutes remaining Nigel Winterburn delivered a long, and inviting pass to Bergkamp who was moving quickly through the penalty area. Potts cut across and it hardly took more than a touch to have Bergkamp unbalanced and Wright kept his second penalty low and inside the post.

In wild hope West Ham finally brought on Sealey to play the final moments up front. He got almost as much possession as the already substituted Tony Cottee had enjoyed, which was almost none.