Coventry fail to make most of openings

Arsenal 1 Coventry City 1

MATT TENCH

Arsenal 1 Coventry City 1

Fittingly for a side managed by the permanently tanned Ron Atkinson, Coventry's performance at Highbury was a bit like a soap opera. Terrific in the opening and closing scenes, they rather lost the plot in between.

As a result they gained a point instead of the three that seemed theirs for the taking, though after an exciting, if patternless game, much the same could also be said for Arsenal.

The visitors made a remarkable start, winning four corners in the first three minutes and forcing excellent saves from David Seaman to deny Richard Shaw and Noel Whelan. Then, just as their early fire began to dim, the Sky Blues suffered 60 seconds that typified their season.

Whelan, freed by Kevin Richardson's intelligent pass, ran clear of the defence before carefully tucking the ball past Seaman. From the kick- off Arsenal sent Glenn Helder down the left and his cross was met by the unmarked Dennis Bergkamp for an instant equaliser. Richardson's anguished expression as the ball was picked out of the net suggested that he had been there before.

Steve Ogrizovic did something to improve his side's defensive reputation with a string of fine saves, notably to twice deny Ian Wright when he was clean through. A frustrating afternoon for the Arsenal captain was completed when his weakly-struck penalty was also thwarted by the Coventry keeper.

By now the game was pleasingly uncertain with its outcome, whatever Tony Blair might say, likely to be settled by effective left-wingers. Both Helder and John Salako had the beating of their full-backs and each seemed capable of creating the winner.

As time wore on this appeared more likely to come from City, for whom Whelan and Dion Dublin have quickly forged one of the Premiership's more complementary partnerships. A period of sustained pressure at the end found an Arsenal back four shorn of Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown defending with increasing desperation, a situation that must worry Bruce Rioch with Adams out for at least a month having had keyhole surgery on his knee on Saturday, and Bould also some way from fitness.

Arsenal held out though, which only left Rioch to give the latest spin on his famously unsigned contract. It did not need to be in writing to be binding, he said, a handshake would do. In any case, "Neville Chamberlain came back with a signed contract", which suggested that it might be better for all concerned if the Arsenal manager did not put pen to paper.

Goals: Whelan (23) 0-1; Bergkamp (24).

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Marshall, Winterburn; Clarke, Merson, Jensen (Hughes, 70), Helder; Bergkamp; Wright. Substitutes not used: Morrow, Hartson.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Burrows, Busst, Shaw, Hall; Strachan (Ndlovu, 79), Richardson, Telfer, Salako; Dublin, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Pickering, Filan.

Referee: S W Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Coventry: Strachan.

Men of the match: Seaman and Ogrizovic. Attendance: 35,623.

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