Bergkamp's bounty hunt
Arsenal 1 (Bergkamp 24) Coventry City 1 (Whelan) 23 Attendance: 35,623
Sunday 04 February 1996
The bold approach is typical of their manager, Ron Atkinson, who said afterwards: "We have to play that way, because all our best players are forwards." If he was referring to Noel Whelan, the remark was entirely justified. The England Under-21 forward scored a well-taken goal and was a constant threat to an Arsenal defence missing Steve Bould, Martin Keown and Tony Adams. Adams's inaction will be extended by at least a month after he underwent keyhole surgery to remove a cartilage yesterday.
Adams' absence was notably exploited by Coventry, who produced an astonishing opening five minutes in which they might have scored three goals. Richard Shaw's diving header forced David Seaman into a fine reflex save, and the keeper had to reproduce that moments later to stop Whelan's fierce half-volley. Lee Dixon then cleared the same player's header from under the bar.
It took Arsenal time to break Coventry's grip. Wright, elevated to captain, could not force his shot past Steve Ogrizovic after John Jensen's pass left him clear. It was an ominous miss. Coventry duly claimed their reward for early enterprise as Whelan latched on to Kevin Richardson's volleyed pass, calmly dinking the ball past Seaman.
But Coventry - with a record of conceding two goals a game - instantly threw away their advantage. Straight from the kick-off, Arsenal worked the ball to Glenn Helder, who powered down the left pulling defenders towards him. This left Dennis Bergkamp unmarked to head in the cross for the equaliser.
That was the end of the scoring, but not of the chances. "Nobody leaves the room when we're playing," Atkinson noted and, though the second-half initiative rested with Arsenal, Wright squandered key chances. First, his weak penalty, given after Marcus Hall seemed to have pulled him down, allowed Ogrizovic to save. Later, when Wright was put clear by a Paul Merson chip, the giant keeper turned the shot away with his left arm.
Coventry never quite created such clear-cut openings, but their spirit was always willing, most notably that of Gordon Strachan, who illuminated the game. His 78th-minute substitution by a forward, Peter Ndlovu, underlined Atkinson's commitment to Coventry attacking their way to survival.
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