Football: Arsenal in alien territory

Leeds United 1 Hasselbaink 42 Arsenal 1 Wright 35 Attendance: 37,993
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The Independent Online
The theory was that an Arsenal side without several of the players upon whom George Graham used to depend would show that in the new era of Arsene Wenger, the loss would comfortably be offset by the quality of attacking football. In the event at Elland Road, there was one moment of quality finishing from Ian Wright - a measure of promise, but most of the satisfaction was Graham's.

At times, Arsenal fans find it hard to believe Wenger could have taken their team from grinding dullness to unaccustomed acclaim for attractiveness. So what on earth does Graham make of it all? His immediate reaction yesterday was a generous comment: "I think they'll win the championship - they've got so many options; an embarrassment of riches."

The man who turned Highbury into a comparative workhouse found himself confronting his old club on the first day of a season in which Wenger's increasingly cosmopolitan side is generally regarded as not only one of the Premiership's title favourites but one of the most changed and entertaining teams around.

But to start yesterday without Tony Adams (suspended), Martin Keown and Lee Dixon (injured) was an instant test of Wenger's purchasing skills. Steve Bould had to link up with Gilles Grimandi in central defence while Emmanuel Petit occupied a defensive midfield position. But predictably it was Marc Overmars who caught the eye, dashing down the left side, the ball tucked close to his feet and his centres piercingly accurate.

For a time Ray Parlour seemed eager to take up the Paul Merson running role, but after driving an early shot wide he was given less space and Leeds found more of their own, Lee Bowyer and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink both troubling David Seaman.

Unlike those two, however, Wright rarely spurns such opportunities. After 34 minutes he took one with typical assurance. Nigel Martyn had just cleared from Wright, who regained possession, left Lucas Radebe rooted with the speed of his turn and after sprinting away beat Martyn with a cool shot on a stifling day.

But Hasselbaink, a pounds 2m buy from Boavista, matched that when he drew out Seaman and beat him with a low, rapped shot.

A suspicion that temperament could cause Arsenal some problems this season was reinforced when their French contingent - Remi Garde, Grimandi, Petit and Patrick Vieira - was booked in its entirety in an irritable period after half-time.

Arsenal's football had been tentative from the beginning and it will take a while to formulate proper teamwork. The individuality is there, but yesterday Graham could be satisfied that Leeds were the better organised. Whether that will fulfil their fans is another matter.

Arsenal can be sure that expectations of Dennis Bergkamp will again be satisfied. His ability to escape the most claustrophobic marking is exceptional, and here he was twice unlucky to be hauled down when on the point of breaking through, but Leeds deserved their escape.

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