Football: Arsenal cast in role of victims

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . .2

A LARGE amount of sympathy ought to be dispensed in the direction of Highbury this morning (OK, it is Arsenal, so make that a small measure) as the frantic climax to an exciting second half saw them deprived of all three points their efforts deserved.

The general consensus afterwards was that the Gunners had been 'mugged' within their own four walls, although leaving the back pocket unprotected does invite the unwanted attentions of the stealthy and the quick-witted.

The English footballer has been roundly condemned for all manner of weakness in what has been a disturbing past few weeks, but never can it be said that he is idle at work. Deep into extended injury time, with BBC Radio's Sports Report on hold while their commentary match dragged on, not one of the 22 combatants were ready to clock off for tea. After four successive Premiership nil-nils it was the least the Arsenal supporters were entitled to.

Then, with the scoreboard clock showing 4.55pm, away went Dean Saunders into space down the Arsenal left, his cut-back from the line was nicely placed for Andy Townsend to drive in and Arsenal were cut further adrift from the head of the table.

So Villa extended their unbeaten away record and relieved some of the gloom that had engulfed them with their Uefa Cup knock-out while Arsenal, plunderers extraordinaire in Europe, did not find the homecoming as welcome as it had seemed on the hour mark.

Not that you would have guessed from the demeanour of the two managers. Ron Atkinson had not enjoyed the match. 'We did not show anything until the last 20 minutes. I am unhappy with a lot of our game, but I suppose we showed some resilience after going behind and our central defenders did well.'

Shaun Teale did more than that, heading or blocking everything Arsenal hurled forward in the last quarter in an exemplary display of discipline and concentration. It was he who appeared on the line to clear Ian Wright's shot soon after Wright had executed a lightning turn to throw off Paul McGrath before steering a clever shot past Nigel Spink.

The goalkeeper had replaced Mark Bosnich, injured when swooping to his left to keep out Wright's first-half penalty, while David Seaman was hurt and left hobbling after a collision with Dalian Atkinson. It was another headache for George Graham, who was less than pleased that the officials' colours matched Villa's but could still smile through the disappointment of the finish. 'That's the best we have played at home,' he said. 'But the last thing I want is for the press to start feeling sorry for us.' He was delighted, too, with Anders Limpar and rightly so.

Goals: Wright (58) 1-0; Whittingham (74) 1-1; Townsend (90) 1-2.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Limpar, Selley, Jensen, Merson; Wright, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Bould, McGoldrick, Miller (gk).

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich (Spink 51); Barrett, McGrath, Teale, Small; Houghton (Whittingham 65), Richardson, Townsend, Daley; Atkinson, Saunders. Substitute not used: Ehiogu.

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe).