Sheffield Wednesday. . .1
THEY did not score seven this time, but Arsenal are purring. Sheffield Wednesday might have found yesterday's visit to Highbury much less excruciating than their last one, but Chris Waddle may be wondering whether he shouldn't have signed on at another address. With their star turn still lingering off-stage, Wednesday were short of ideas on how to pierce a defence operating at its traditional stingiest. Arsenal, meanwhile, created chances galore and bagged a pair of them in dashing fashion.
The provider in both instances was Ian Wright, who despite failing to score will have done his hopes of inheriting Gary Lineker's England shirt no harm, while David Hirst, his rival for that honour, made one glorious strike but otherwise allowed the occasion to get the better of him and was booked, and later substituted.
In all, six names were taken by the referee in the first half (4-2 to the home side) - evidence that Wednesday were prepared to match Arsenal's competitiveness. Hampered by injuries, though, they are not yet firing on all cylinders this season and when their hosts chose to express themselves Wednesday were befuddled by quick-witted improvisation of high calibre. A particularly eyecatching contribution came from the new young hope of Highbury, Ray Parlour, who made you realise why Thomas and Rocastle were allowed to leave.
Wright was quick to impress. Lee Dixon's diagonal chip pushed him into the corner and though his low cross was comically missed by Paul Merson's wild swing, it was precisely buried from the edge of the box by Parlour. Minutes later Wright again crossed for Parlour only to see his header clear the bar.
Though he flourished after the interval, some of Merson's work on the left had more aesthetic appeal than actual usefulness. Those who would prefer to see him weaving his spells through the middle had their case bolstered by a superb strike that doubled the Gunners' lead. Williams was dispossessed on the edge of Arsenal's area, Steve Bould cleared astutely into the path of Wright, who coasted down the left before locating Merson inside. His shot, from the same position as Parlour's, was more of a caress than a thump, reflecting a confidence that sometimes borders on the lackadaisical.
Wednesday's answers to all this were few and far between. Paul Williams had one effort cleared off the line, then Hirst pounced on a high ball weakly cleared by Bould and volleyed from the edge of the box through the outstretched palm of Seaman and into the net. Chris Bart-Williams, another player not embarrassed by Arsenal's fitful excellence, had Seaman beaten from long range, but hit the post. That was only fair, as parity at half-time would have mocked the superiority of a side who looked sporadically capable of repeating last season's goal binge.
Unopposed by the bite of Carlton Palmer, Merson, Parlour and John Jensen found that they could carve through the midfield at will, but with Kevin Campbell out of sorts, Arsenal lacked an out- and-out hit man, and when the best chance of the second half fell to an unmarked Tony Adams, he lifted his head and half-volleyed from close range way over the bar.
Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, D Hillier, S Bould, T Adams, J Jensen, I Wright, K Campbell, P Merson (A Smith, 82 min), R Parlour. Substitutes not used: C Pates, A Miller (gk). Manager: G Graham.
Sheffield Wednesday: C Woods; R Nilsson, P Warhurst, G Hyde, N Pearson, P Shirtliff, D Wilson (J Harkes, 65 min), C Bart-Williams, D Hirst (N Jemson, 76 min), P Williams, N Worthington. Substitute not used: K Pressman (gk). Player- manager: T Francis.
Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).
Goals: Parlour (1-0, 8 min), Merson (2-0, 27 min), Hirst (2-1, 33 min).