Football: Arsenal lack goal touch

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

Sheffield United. . .1

AFTER two successful cup ties, it was back to business as usual for Arsenal: a league victory frustratingly thrown away. They were by far the superior side, but reverted to their Premier League type and failed to secure the victory they had earned.

You have to look back a full two months for Arsenal's last league win, since which they have scored just two league goals. On a day when their designs on the championship looked more like wishful thinking, it became clear that the most significant double they are likely to achieve this season will prove to be last week's disciplinary hearing for their two angry men, Ian Wright and George Graham, the manager.

Wright's behaviour was impeccable yesterday, but Graham had every reason to be furious. There was no referee to blame this time, only a strike force that wasted too much and a team who let their standards drop after relentlessly dominating the first half. Sheffield United played the spoiler's game throughout but to their credit they finished far more thoroughly.

Arsenal had taken immediate control of the game, their firm grip not letting up until the 23rd minute when Sheffield United mounted their first dangerous attack. By then, however, the Gunners had already enjoyed their first long session of shooting practice, but the opposition goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, was in particularly good form.

The Scandinavian duo, John Jensen and Anders Limpar, brought out the best from Kelly before Wright was teed up for a hat-trick, failing to finish all three chances. In fairness, these were not chances squandered; Wright did very well to get two of them on target - one a 25-yard shot off the bounce.

Feeding these attacks were Limpar, Paul Merson and the magnificent Nigel Winterburn, who was the equal of anyone on the field, both in defence and in attack. Winterburn and Limpar had not started a league game together since September, but their understanding was sometimes devastating.

For all their dominance, Arsenal could have gone a goal behind on three occasions in the first half. One saw David Seaman running dangerously, and ineffectively, off his line, another saw Adrian Littlejohn head a reasonable chance wide.

Arsenal, however, moved swiftly back up-field for a second session of shooting practice. Merson missed the best chance on offer, and suspicions that the north Londoners' pressure would all come to nothing were starting to mount just as David Hillier belted goalwards from outside the box. Even Kelly could not stop this one, which flew past him into the top right-hand corner of the net.

Arsenal lost their way in the second half: passes went astray and Kelly was comparatively unemployed. Limpar hit the post with 20 minutes to go, and with just eight minutes left Arsenal brought on David O'Leary and appeared to be happy to close down the game.

No such luck. Three minutes remained when Kelly hit a long goal- kick which Andy Linighan misjudged and headed straight into the path of the advancing Littlejohn. A simple side-foot past Seaman was all that was needed to secure Sheffield United a point and Arsenal another hefty dose of frustration.

Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, D Hillier, A Linighan, T Adams, J Jensen, I Wright, A Smith, P Merson (D O'Leary, 82 min), A Limpar. Subs not used: K Campbell, A Miller (gk). Manager: G Graham.

Sheffield United: A Kelly; K Gage, D Barnes, J Gannon (A Cork, 64 min), J Pemberton, P Beesley, C Kamara, P Rogers (J Hoyland, 82 min), A Littlejohn, B Deane, G Hodges. Sub not used: K Veysey (gk). Manager: D Bassett.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Goals: Hillier (1-0, 44 min); Littlejohn (1-1, 87 min).