Football: Arsenal's goal drought over: Cup holders make a jittery start in Cyprus

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The Independent Online
Omonia Nicosia. .1

Arsenal. . . . . 3

ARSENAL began their defence of their European Cup-Winners' Cup successfully thanks to their first goals in almost seven hours of football. Paul Merson, left out by George Graham last week, scored twice.

They were lucky to survive a breathless start on a sultry night in Nicosia. After only two minutes the Gunners, who won this trophy last May, needed a goal-line clearance from Lee Dixon to prevent Costas Constantinou scoring with a fierce drive.

Arsenal began to settle, although a packed crowd in the Makarion National Stadium whistled and jeered their every mistake on a bumpy pitch that was unacceptable for this level of football.

Arsenal gradually began to cope, however, and when Dixon sprung the Cypriots' offside trap with a run down the right in the ninth minute, both Ray Parlour and Stefan Schwarz were inches away from making a touch.

An anxious Graham strode from his seat in the stand to take up residence on the bench. It seemed to do the trick with Merson giving Arsenal an undeserved lead in the 37th minute - their first goal in six hours and 51 minutes of play since the opening game this season.

Ian Wright's through ball was perfectly weighted for Merson to beat the goalkeeper, Christos Christou, and slot the ball past him.

Five minutes into the second half the bumpy pitch, which Arsenal had complained about before the start, worked in their favour when Wright scored. David Seaman's clearance bounced awkwardly for the Omonia's centre-back and captain, Evagoras Christophi, who had to re-adjust his leap to make a back- header towards his goalkeeper.

He left it short and Wright, spotting the opportunity pounced before the goalkeeper could intervene and clipped it over him.

Arsenal could have added further goals in the next 15 minutes but after 72 minutes it was Omonia who scored a deserved goal, after an error in midfield by Schwarz. He lost possession and allowed Malekos to run through and fire a shot from just outside the area in off the post.

Just when the Cypriots seemed likely to get back in the match and give themselves a chance for the second leg, Merson scored his second goal, nine minutes from time. It was a bad error which enabled Wright to gallop away on the left and an even worse mistake which allowed his low cross to find its way to the far side of the box, where Merson lashed it into the net.

Omonia Nicosia: Christou; Christodoulou, Panagiotsu, Constantinou, Christophi, Andreou, Kantilos (Kaiaphas, 66), Savvides, Gogritsiani, Malekos, Xiourouppas (Kizilasvili, 58).

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Keown, Winterburn, Jensen, Parlour, Schwarz (Morrow, 82), Merson, Wright, Smith.

Referee: A Marcal (Portugal).

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