Football: Arsenal's champion show

Premiership: Arsenal 5 Wimbledon 1; Parlour begins Highbury rout to take Gunners within one point of United at the top
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE NOTION that there are no easy games in the Premiership was confounded at Highbury last night as Wimbledon meekly handed Arsenal a victory that took the champions within one point of Manchester United, their conquerors in the epic FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park last Wednesday.

If there can be no Double this season, Arsene Wenger's team are clearly determined that there will not be a double disappointment either. United will not want to study the papers too carefully as they fly out of Manchester Airport for Turin this morning. Although still favoured with a game in hand, their advantage in goal difference of 10 has been cut to six and might have disappeared altogether, so ineptly did Wimbledon defend in allowing the home side no fewer than 34 scoring attempts.

Few tasks can be any less strenuous than depriving the Dons of points at the fag end of a season, their holidays apparently beginning as soon as relegation is no longer on the cards. Poor Joe Kinnear, recuperating at home following his heart attack, should consider sending a card with one of his famously blunt messages to be pinned on the dressing-room wall.

That said, Arsenal were irresistible, scoring four times in nine minutes shortly after the interval as the crowd alternated chants of "Juve, Juve" with "boring, boring Arsenal". Some of their number could not resist adding a chorus of "champions" at the final whistle. Perhaps they were remembering a 5-0 romp against Wimbledon almost exactly a year ago that carried them to the top of the table, where they remained despite United's best efforts.

Wenger, characteristically, was not about to predict a repeat, however fervently he may desire it. "Nothing has really changed. It's still in the hands of Manchester United," he said. "We have difficult fixtures and so do they. United still have good security but we'll try to keep the pressure on them. It was important to show that we could win again.

"The question mark was how deeply we were psychologically hurt [by the semi-final defeat] and how well we could react. I would have signed for a 1-0 win and three points, so I can only be delighted."

Wenger had paired Dennis Bergkamp with Kanu for the first time, allowing Nicolas Anelka a rest, and the changed worked perfectly. He was also rewarded with an outstanding first 45 minutes from Marc Overmars, taking out his frustration at being fit enough to play little more than half of last week's tie.

Ray Parlour, having picked up the Carling Player of the Month award before the kick-off, demonstrated many of the qualities which had earned it and once Nelson Vivas, standing in for the injured Lee Dixon, realised there was little to concern him in defence, Wimbledon were in trouble.

They could consider themselves fortunate that the banks did not burst any earlier. It was Overmars who made the opening goal in the 35th minute, heading this time for the byline and cutting back a cross for Parlour to turn in.

Neil Sullivan prevented further damage before half-time but had the look of a drowning man soon afterwards. Significantly, the two full-backs were prominent in almost all of the exciting attacks with which Arsenal killed the game. In the 49th minute Winterburn was confident enough in his colleagues and his own ability to surge forward in the inside-right position, finding Patrick Vieira, whose left-footed drive added the second goal.

Three more followed almost as quickly as the scoreboard could record them. Kanu forced the first of them by heading Bergkamp's floated cross against the post, the unfortunate Ben Thatcher running the rebound into his own net off a knee.

In the next attack Bergkamp, long since forgiven by the crowd for his penalty miss at Villa Park, became a hugely popular scorer, leaving Alan Kimble flat on his face with a twist and turn before beating Sullivan.

Only two minutes later Kenny Cunningham's indecisive attempt at a clearance left Kanu with a tap-in for the fifth goal.

Wimbledon ensured there could at least be no repeat of last season's scoreline when Carl Cort headed a free-kick from Ceri Hughes past David Seaman 20 minutes from time. As the Arsenal keeper had hardly touched the ball since half-time, he was entitled to feel rather miffed.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Vivas, Keown (Bould, 89), Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Petit, Vieira, Overmars; Kanu, Bergkamp (Diawara, 70). Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Anelka, Grimandi.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Thatcher, Kimble; Euell (Ainsworth, 89), Castledine (Hartson, 74), Earle, C Hughes; Gayle, Cort. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Jupp, Leaburn.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Comments