Football: Coca-Cola Cup - Hartson woe compounded by Wright's revival act

West Ham United 1 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Online
Arsenal's dying season was unexpectedly revived last night when the spectre they feared would return to haunt them transpired to be a benign ghost.

John Hartson, once of Highbury but now a Hammers hero, put his former employers on their way to the Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals when he fluffed a penalty 18 minutes into the quarter-final.

Then the men who barred his way at Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright, showed just why Arsene Wenger was prepared to let Hartson go. Neither has played well since the onset of winter, but amid the mud and rain of Upton Park they rediscovered their form of autumn.

To an extent the match was won in midfield where West Ham were missing key players, but Wright and Bergkamp made the crucial difference, underlining Arsenal's reliance upon them.

Wright, set up by Bergkamp, put Arsenal ahead seven minutes after Hartson's error. They continued to trouble West Ham's defence and the pressure told when Marc Overmars was gifted a second after 52 minutes. Although Samassi Abou pulled a goal back with 15 minutes left, the home team had been left with too much to do.

Arsenal had previously fielded such weak teams in this competition that they had had to give some unsuspecting spectators their money back. Last night they fielded their best available XI. Being out of Europe, slipping behind in the League and facing a tricky FA Cup third-round replay at Port Vale has given this competition a new lustre for Arsenal.

It was even worth Glenn Hoddle's attendance, primarily to see Wright's duel with Rio Ferdinand. Wright, looking sharp on his return from suspension, won comfortably. He was quickly into the action, stretching to head over a cross from Bergkamp, who then had a free-kick well saved by Craig Forrest. West Ham responded with a low shot from Frank Lampard which Seaman saved down at his near post.

Then Eyal Berkovitch worked the ball through a square Arsenal defence and Paul Kitson set off in pursuit. The position was unpromising until Seaman, perhaps losing his footing on the greasy surface, slid into him. Penalty.

As Hartson, confident scorer of 18 goals this season, stood waiting in front of the England goalkeeper and several thousand baying Arsenal fans, you could see his belief drain away. This was his chance against the team that rejected his potential. He blew it, a wan penalty slithering into Seaman's midriff.

Wright and Bergkamp both went close before Winterburn's long pass fell to Wright after 25 minutes. His first touch was poor, but it wrong-footed Ferdinand and Wright recovered quickly to accept Bergkamp's delightful pass and score. It was his 29th goal in as many League Cup games, but only his second in three difficult months.

"The criticism never bothered me," said Wright unconvincingly, adding: "I knew the boys loved me." Wright had four days off during his ban and Wenger said: "I never doubted him, but he needed the break physically and mentally."

Seaman toed a Lampard free-kick on to the post and touched Berkovitch's shot over as West Ham rallied, but after 52 minutes the goalkeeper played a rare part as provider. Although his long kick was flicked on by Wright it seemed harmless, but neither Ferdinand nor David Unsworth took responsibility. Overmars thus simply strolled between them and passed the ball in.

Abou's 75th-minute goal, stabbed in from fellow substitute Keith Rowland's long ball as Arsenal's defence hesitated, made for a rousing finish, but Arsenal always looked likely winners.

West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Forrest; Pearce (Rowland, 66), Ferdinand, Unsworth; Impey, Potts, Lampard, Lazaridis; Berkovitch; Kitson (Abou, 59), Hartson. Substitute not used: Lama (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Grimandi, Keown, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Hughes, 89); Bergkamp, Wright (Wreh, 83). Substitute not used: Manninger (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Surrey).

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