Embattled Arsenal stand firm

Arsenal 1 Dixon 88 Chelsea 1 Spencer 25 Attendance:38,295
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The Independent Online
A GOAL by Lee Dixon three minutes from time rescued for Arsenal a point they barely deserved and preserved their unbeaten record at Highbury when it looked as if Chelsea had done enough to claim the points, not least because Arsenal were down to 10 men with Steve Bould having been sent off for a second yellow card after fouling Mark Hughes.

Chelsea still continue to puncture the pomposity of the Premiership pretenders, however. A draw at Old Trafford, a home victory over Newcastle and now this, which should have been another victory after John Spencer had given them the lead and Arsenal struggled without the guile of Dennis Bergkamp.

Arsenal have displayed the signs of transition in keeping their noses to the tails of Newcastle and Manchester United - glimpses of the future in some exciting, ground-based attacking play and echoes of the past in grinding out results. Had they improved on their three consecutive draws going into this match, they might be closer to the top two.

At least in two goalless draws they have showed that they are rediscovering the niggardly defensive attitudes that were missing in league competition last season. Going into yesterday's match, they had kept a clean sheet in nine of 17 matches.

With Chelsea struggling to score goals - 16 in their 17 previous games - the portents for thrills were not auspicious, even if the visitors would be quietly confident of eking out a result, having beaten Arsenal 1-0 at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. Spirits were also dampened by the absence of the sides' Dutchmen, Bergkamp and Ruud Gullit.

The initial exchanges were as grim and grey as the day. Chelsea were content to absorb Arsenal's approach play and seek to counter-attack; the home side, having dropped Glenn Helder to substitute, lacked width and floundered as Paul Merson and David Platt sought to find a way to Ian Wright through Chelsea's three-man central defence.

All of a sudden, however, the game burst into life with a goal for the Blues out of the blue. Dan Petrescu fed Craig Burley on the right and his deep cross to the far post was turned back by Terry Phelan to Spencer, who drove crisply inside David Seaman's near post from eight yards.

Now Arsenal were in disarray and Hughes almost added an audacious second moments later. Taking a long ball on his chest, he swivelled and sent in a volley from 35 yards, Seaman grateful to see it dip on to the roof of his net.

The persistent Merson looked Arsenal's most likely source of a reply and his volley from Wright's cross was blocked before he played a neat one-two with John Hartson that ended with the Welshman driving a shot wide.

The Arsenal manager, Bruce Rioch, wisely put Helder on the left wing for the second half to replace John Jensen and immediately there was a more incisive look to them. Now more stretched, the Chelsea defence began to develop a few chinks and Hartson had a couple of half-chances, volleying one just wide and seeing Dennis Wise clear the other from the six-yard box.

With the busy Spencer breaking from deep to support Hughes, Chelsea always looked dangerous on the break, however. One neat move ended with Spencer forcing Seaman to save and soon after Hughes picked out Spencer's run, only to put the pass too close to the goalkeeper.

Arsenal should have had the equaliser the scoreboard erroneously attributed to them when Hartson sent Wright clear in the penalty area, but the shot was weak and too close to Dmitri Kharin, who was allowed to save with his legs. It said much about the unusually subdued Wright, as well as the misfirings of a frustrated and frustrating Arsenal.