Football: Arsenal reinforced as Wright brings relief

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 0

Arsenal 1

Wright 36

Attendance: 36,751

So thankful were the St James' Park faithful to see a recognised striker take the field that they welcomed back Faustino Asprilla with a reception befitting a returning hero.

But it was a striker returning to form who won the game. Ian Wright ended the second most barren spell of his career - seven goalless games - and his flamboyant celebration, parading his relief around the ground with his shirt over his head, silenced Tino's wild welcome.

It was no more than Arsenal deserved, because although the wheels may have come off their title bandwagon, they were prepared to dig in and compete to regain their momentum. Newcastle's wheels are still bogged down in a morass of midfielders without a goalscoring instinct.

The Colombian's return was meant to kick-start Newcastle. After nine weeks' absence he might have been surprised that none of his team-mates had overtaken his six goals to become leading scorer. And he would have been shocked at how quickly they had forgotten how to play with a recognised striker.

For a while they painted pretty passing patterns across the back, Asprilla's only first-half involvement being to wrestle Martin Keown to the ground.

Meanwhile, Arsenal slipped back into their well-honed ways. In the 16th minute, Wright set up Dennis Bergkamp for one of his trademark whipped shots that Shaka Hislop clung to well. A minute later, Bergkamp rolled the ball into the path of one of Wright's trademark oblique runs but the striker chipped over.

A truly evil 25-yard free-kick from Stuart Pearce, which David Seaman tipped over as the ball reared round the wall and threatened to take his head off, was Newcastle's best effort of the half.

From the resulting corner, Wright broke and found Bergkamp. The Dutchman's first touch was unusually poor and Hislop spread himself well. But, 10 minutes later, Bergkamp combined control and strength to pirouette and push his way to the byline, delicately chipping for Wright to head home.

With the one-striker ploy not working, Newcastle threw Jon Dahl Tomasson forward. In the 59th minute Asprilla got his chance. Peacock's pass found him ahead of the Arsenal defence but as he accelerated into the area, Keown's tackle was quick and clean. Three minutes later, the maverick Colombian departed.

"He wanted to be back, the people wanted him back, but maybe the gamble of playing Tino backfired a little," said his manager, Kenny Dalglish.

The substitution left Newcastle facing their usual quandary: which of their midfielders to play as a target man. John Barnes was the choice but his slight physical presence could not prevent Newcastle's attacks floundering at the feet of Emmanuel Petit or on the head of Tony Adams.

And on the break, Marc Overmars found fluency down the left, creating chances that might have allowed Wright to strike again.