Arsenal tumble to Earle

Arsenal 1

Wright 27

Wimbledon 3

Earle 38, 67, Holdsworth 50

Attendance: 37,640

MINUS the presence - and more important the inspiration - of their captain, Tony Adams, for the second Saturday in succession, Arsenal were well and truly flattened by their visitors, whose demeanour throughout showed that they were well aware that they were fighting for Premiership survival.

Wimbledon, lacking in what some consider the finer points of the game, were not deficient in the vital areas of communal effort and a willingness to die for each other. It paid off, brought their 1995 to a happy end and should have imbued them with enough spirit to see off the ghost of relegation in the New Year.

Arsenal should have known what was coming by the manner in which Wimbledon surged eagerly towards David Seaman's goal from the kick-off. Robbie Earle had the keeper scrambling to save at the foot of a post within five minutes and Dean Holdsworth was not far away with a header from the first of many laser-guided crosses delivered by Alan Kimble's left foot.

Wimbledon's pressure may have been akin to using a hammer to open a tin can and in the 28th minute Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright sliced open the visitors' defence with almost surgical precision. Nigel Winterburn's dash into enemy territory saw the full-back stab his pass towards Wright, who had the presence of mind to leave it to Bergkamp and run into space for the perfectly weighted return which he stroked into Hans Seager's net.

Wimbledon's typically bloody-minded resilience was to pay off handsomely in the second half, but had started with their equaliser in the 39th minute. Vinny Jones was fouled wide on the right, took the free-kick himself and found Earle sneaking in to head firmly past Seaman.

Within minutes of the restart Holdsworth was flicking a header from another inch-perfect Kimble cross just wide. Arsenal had been warned but were caught out in the 49th minute when Kimble again found Holdsworth's head rising beyond Keown and Andy Linighan to direct the second goal beyond Seaman.

It was all hands to the Highbury pump now and their manager, Bruce Rioch, decided that Paul Dickov might be more up to the task than John Jensen whom he replaced in the 57th minute. Dickov did add a bit more bite to a flaccid Arsenal midfield where the England captain, David Platt, was anonymous.

But the game was put beyond recall when Earle scored his fifth goal against Arsenal in two seasons in the 67th minute. Chris Perry hoofed a clearance out of defence towards the right wing where Holdsworth beat Winterburn to it to nod the ball into Earle's path. Seaman saw the danger but could not get off his line quickly enough to block the Wimbledon man's lob and the ball bounced into the empty net.

Throughout Mick Harford seemed to unsettle Arsenal's central defenders and created the space others exploited. At the other end Bergkamp was noticeably not firing on all cylinders after a couple of early strong, but fair, tackles. But Arsenal must solve what has become their perennial deficiency in the middle of the field. Platt's failure to make the slightest impression on the flow of events must concern his managers, both at club and national level.