Football: Chelsea run into problem of belief: Blue funk is music to Wright

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . .0

Arsenal. . .2

WHEN the final whistle signalled Chelsea's sixth successive Premiership defeat, a vexed fan turned round and, catching a director's attention, mimicked writing a cheque. But new recruits will not necessarily provide the antidote to this blue funk; the answer lies within Stamford Bridge.

The problem rests not with personnel but with their non-stop application of skills and the master's plan. One fundamental - but not insurmountable - flaw is undermining the forward-thinking work of Glenn Hoddle: if Chelsea do not score when they are dominant, they can lose shape and belief. George Graham, whose teams rarely experience doubt, said: 'It's important for Chelsea that they score in the period when they are on top.'

For 20 minutes, a Dennis Wise-inspired Chelsea did hold the upper hand, but when the breakthrough their purposeful football warranted failed to materialise, frustration began to gnaw at a team full of young players and others still coming to terms with an unfamiliar system.

Arsenal are like jackals when they sniff weakening opposition. Martin Keown gradually wore down the initially influential Wise and, with their best player shackled, Chelsea were there for the taking.

The Gunners could have enjoyed a six-goal salute but settled for two, which brought their first League victory for five games and first at the Bridge in 19 seasons. The opener was an extended set-piece: Paul Merson, a thoroughly positive attacking force, chipped his corner to the near-post where David Lee's poorly directed header kept his fellow defenders under pressure. With Ian Wright half-way through a bicycle kick, Frank Sinclair nipped in to clear but only to Andy Linighan whose return header was volleyed in by the swivelling Alan Smith. 'As soon as they scored our heads dropped,' Wise said.

Another defensive error further ruined home hopes just before the turnaround: Wright, darting into the box, was nudged by Lee. From the spot, his 20th goal of the season was a formality. So was the rest of the game and Wright, Smith and Merson could really have taken the edge off Dimitri Kharin's World Cup celebrations.

The contrast with Chelsea's front line was depressing for the hosts. Where Arsenal were lively, Mark Stein and Neil Shipperley looked lightweight, although both clearly possess the talent to succeed at this level. Eventually.

'We never had a cutting edge in the attacking third,' Peter Shreeves, stand-in for the flu-ridden Hoddle, said. 'And some of our defenders were sloppy.' Particularly Lee and Sinclair: promising performers, with the ability to represent their country, both were lucky to escape punishment after being dispossessed with no cover behind them.

Chelsea face Manchester City tonight: a record-equalling defeat and more than one fan will be waving an imaginary chequebook.

Goals: Smith (27) 0-1; Wright pen (45) 0-2.

Chelsea (5-1-2-2): Kharin; Clarke, Johnsen (Hopkin, 54), Lee, Sinclair, Barnard; Donaghy (Newton, 74); Peacock, Wise; Stein, Shipperley. Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).

Arsenal (4-1-3-2): Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Bould, Winterburn (Morrow, 77); Keown; Selley, Davis, Merson; Wright, Smith. Substitutes not used: Campbell, Miller (gk).

Referee: P Don (Hanworth Park, Middlesex).

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