Arsenal shake off hangover

SIMON O'HAGAN

Arsenal 4 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Arsenal kept in touch with the top of the Premiership last night in spite of a fraught display against a Sheffield Wednesday team who punched some holes in their opponents' reputation for defensive solidity. Victory was enough for Arsenal to regain third place after being overtaken 24 hours earlier by Aston Villa, but on this evidence their championship potential must still be open to question.

In a game in which Wednesday stunned most of Highbury by recovering from going 1-0 down early on to lead 2-1 midway through the first half, Arsenal shared the goals around but had mainly Dennis Bergkamp to thank for maintaining a semblance of order.

Bergkamp's fellow-Dutchman Glenn Helder was so erratic he was substituted at half-time, David Platt and Paul Merson were peripheral figures until late in the second half, and the Arsenal back four had one of those days when the length of time they have spent together looked more of a liability than an argument in their favour. And this against a Wednesday side who had scored only two goals in their previous seven Premiership matches and whose own defence was in a state of upheaval following the sale of Dan Petrescu and Andy Pearce, and an injury to Des Walker.

Arsenal were keen to get defeat at Tottenham on Saturday out of their system quickly, and the process began well enough when Bergkamp stroked home a free-kick in the fourth minute, his sixth goal in eight matches. But suddenly Wednesday began to run rings round them.

With 10 minutes gone, Chris Waddle crossed to the far post where David Hirst headed in - a very unArsenal-like goal to concede. After Ian Nolan had hit the bar and Mark Degryse had a shot saved by David Seaman's legs, Wednesday went ahead in the 22nd minute when Steve Bould lost his footing, Guy Whittingham picked up the loose ball, and Waddle struck from 10 yards.

A more assertive side might have pressed home their advantage, but Wednesday hung back and Arsenal regrouped. The equaliser came in the 58th minute when Bergkamp slipped the ball to the overlapping Nigel Winterburn, whose rasping left-foot drive brought him only his sixth League goal in nine seasons at the club.

Arsenal breathed more easily after their substitute, Paul Dickov, rounded Kevin Pressman to make it 3-2 in the 66th minute, but even then Graham Hyde hit the bar with a prodigious shot from 30 yards and Mark Bright missed with an easy header. The outcome was finally settled when John Hartson, playing instead of the suspended Ian Wright, headed in Platt's cross four minutes from time.

"We've started to let crosses come in," a puzzled Bruce Rioch said. "We've defended deep too often and allowed people to come on to us. That's damaging."

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Merson, Platt, Keown, Helder (Dickov, h-t); Bergkamp, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Jensen, Hillier.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Atherton, Watts, Briscoe; Waddle, Pembridge (DeGryse, 15; Bright, 76), Hyde, Sinton; Whittingham, Hirst. Substitute not used: Linighan.

Referee: L R Dilkes (Mossley).

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