Football: Allen disarms the Gunners: Norman Fox sees Arsenal's plans for Europe disrupted by a 2-0 home defeat

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The Independent Online
WITH their European Cup- Winners' Cup final against Parma in Copenhagen four days away, Arsenal would have liked to take off the bank holiday weekend. As it was, their depleted squad suffered further bumps and bruises and their first defeat in 20 matches, at home to West Ham United yesterday.

In anticipation of what may be their most awkward game of this and many a previous season, Arsenal have been talking a good final; chest-beating stuff about having the depth of talent to overcome Ian Wright's unnecessary suspension, the absence of John Jensen, and, possibly, Martin Keown.

But there is no avoiding the fact that it was Wright's brilliance against Paris St Germain in France that tipped the semi-final in Arsenal's favour. Yet even without him, and ravaged by injuries, they remain difficult to beat, but only that.

The importance to Arsenal of winning their first European trophy since the days of the old Fairs' Cup in 1970 is twofold since this is almost certainly their only passport back into Europe next season. Had they been playing Parma home and away instead of in a one-off final, they could keep their opponents in check and snatch a winner probably from the head of Tony Adams. On the night, however, they must find a replacement goalscorer and inspiration for Wright. That has to be Paul Merson, the one player capable of adding unexpected variations to expected industry.

Parma, who won the Cup- Winners' Cup last season by beating Antwerp 3-1 at Wembley, have several players who can match Merson for skill. It would be foolish to think that Tomas Brolin will be as subdued as when playing for Sweden against Wales a fortnight ago. Brolin apart, the greatest threats are the Colombian Asprilla, and Zola, whose power and accuracy with a dead ball make it essential that Arsenal avoid giving away free-kicks on the fringe of their area.

Yesterday in an attempt to preserve and prepare for Wednesday, George Graham chose to rest David Seaman, who has bruised ribs, Adams, Lee Dixon and Alan Smith. All should be available for Copenhagen.

Confusion reigned in the Arsenal defence in which Eddie McGoldrick acted as right- back until he too was injured though not badly enough to miss the final. Seaman's deputy Alan Miller soon found himself covering for a dithering back line.

West Ham eventually made them pay. Their first goal, after 78 minutes, was entirely the fault of Andy Linighan who attempted a back pass when under no serious threat. He under-hit the ball and Trevor Morley easily caught up with it to veer past Miller.

It is as well that Seaman and Adams will be back for the real crunch. Not that even Seaman would have had a chance against Martin Allen's successful 25-yard shot two minutes from the end.

(Photograph omitted)