Blades make the cut
Football: Arsenal 1 (Wright 70) Sheffield United 1 (Whitehouse 78) Attendance: 33,453
Sunday 07 January 1996
Despite their celebrations - and Sheffield Wednesday's defeat contributed to the chorus - United fans will probably accept that this was one draw the nation will quickly forget. That United deserved their second chance - a week next Tuesday - was as much to do with their own dogged determination, as it was to the continuing dysfunction of an Arsenal side that is missing four key players.
Their manager, Bruce Rioch, will hope that the return of David Platt, Dennis Bergkamp, Steve Bould and Ray Parlour can turn the tie around, but as Howard Kendall, United's manager, warned afterwards: "We can pose more problems in Sheffield than we did today."
Kendall - less than a month into his latest managerial job - was being unduly modest. Had David White shown even a glimmer of the goal-scoring confidence that once brought him an England cap, Kendall might have been talking about an historic victory.
Twice in the first half, when Arsenal were at their least convincing, White had chances to signal his rebirth. But from Phil Starbuck's knock- down at a corner, his feeble miskick enabled David Seaman to save with his feet after diving the wrong way. Later, White was put clean through when a tackle on the outstanding Glyn Hodges deflected into his path, but he could only hit high and wide as he closed in on goal.
At that stage it did not seem too vital: Michel Vonk and Roger Nilsen were comfortably holding the Arsenal attack and there was little momentum from the Gunners' midfield, with Glenn Helder being particularly obtuse. But Adrian Clarke's snap-shot just wide on the stroke of half-time at last hinted at an Arsenal revival.
It duly arrived in the second period, but until the goal it was largely pressure without chances and noise without music. Martin Keown provided a typical highlight with some smart skills before nearly hitting the Arsenal clock with his shot.
"We had the momentum," Rioch reflected after the game, "but we needed to make our possession count."
The fact that Arsenal finally did, 20 minutes from time, was because of Paul Merson's diagonal run from John Jensen's pass. When Merson penetrated the box, he played a wicked ball across the face of the Sheffield goal and Ian Wright slid in front of Vonk to touch home.
Normally Arsenal would have held on to this - their favourite result - but they are a team lacking confidence as well as their best players. With 12 minutes left, the United substitute Adrian Heath had space and time for his cross and Whitehouse nipped in front of Lee Dixon to smash the ball past Seaman.
The replay should be a true test of Arsenal's nerve and ambition, and if they fail they can expect the singing to be replaced by a persistent moan.
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