Football Commentary: Chelsea join the ranks of Euro-sceptics: Arsenal travel in Wright mood

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CHELSEA, according to their manager Glenn Hoddle, played 'the more attractive football' in the first half of a 3-1 defeat by Arsenal at Highbury. Really? One move apart, they did not seem to want to play any football at all. It was their next match, in European competition on Thursday, they were interested in, not this one.

It says everything for Chelsea's approach that when Arsenal - at that stage as muscular and predictable as ever - took the lead, the response of the few uncommitted spectators was relief that the positive team had been rewarded.

Chelsea had arrived with a top- six placing and a reputation for playing good football. They lined up with Nigel Spackman sitting in front of the back four, David Rocastle and Eddie Newton pulled deep on the flanks, and Paul Furlong alone in attack. The gameplan: come for a point and hope to burgle three.

They might have succeeded, too, were it not for the opportunism of Ian Wright and aerial strength of his team-mates. Instead it is Arsenal who will this week go confidently into the second round of the European Cup-Winners' Cup - their reward for treating the match on its merits, rather than as a rehearsal for Europe.

Chelsea's formation - only partly dictated by John Spencer's injury, said Hoddle - is the one they are using in Europe. Their approach to the Continent matches that of their best-known political supporter, cautious participation. Given how effectively Chelsea break - their goal was an exemplary piece of counter-attacking - such a policy has its merits. But it demands a greater level of commitment than they demonstrated at Highbury.

'The things we did not do today we have to do on Thursday,' Hoddle said, looking forward to the first leg of their tie with Austria Vienna. 'Against Arsenal you have to be physically strong. We did not have the same desire as them to compete.'

Those virtues, and some astute and well-executed tactics, won Arsenal the trophy last year, and Chelsea apparently intend to follow a similar path. To do so, however, would waste their inventiveness in attack and, given they lack Arsenal's defensive solidity, may even be the riskier option. Hoddle's side may be inexperienced in Europe, but so, too, are Newcastle and they have not resorted to defence.

Arsenal, who play in Denmark against Brondby on Thursday, have tried to broaden their game this season, with limited success. Recently they have reverted to their less attractive but highly effective emphasis on hustling and set plays. One senses that George Graham, their manager, would like to put out a more consistently entertaining side, but shies away from the thoroughgoing revolution that would require in both attitude and personnel.

Their saving grace is the quicksilver brilliance of Ian Wright. He scored twice on Saturday. The first came after Chelsea had comprehensively failed to deal with a corner. The otherwise excellent Dimitri Kharin was left floundering after Steve Bould's near-post knock-on caused confusion, and Wright volleyed in. That was four minutes before the break, eight minutes after it Kevin Campbell put Arsenal ahead after Chelsea had again failed to clear a corner.

Campbell's goal effectively killed a game which, for all the full-house passion of a London derby, had taken 35 minutes to ignite. The spark was Chelsea's goal. Kharin, gathering a Lee Dixon cross, threw to Dennis Wise in midfield. He fed Gavin Peacock on the left and, continuing forward, arrived to prod in Furlong's far- post knock-down from the subsequent cross. From goalkeeper to goal in four passes.

The crucial factor, though, was the space left by Dixon's right- wing surge.

Once Arsenal had taken the lead they were not going to be as heavily committed again. Chelsea re-jigged but any thoughts of a recovery were soon ended by Wright's marvellously taken left- foot volley from Nigel Winterburn's pull-back.

The pressure lifted, Arsenal, with Stefan Schwarz a growing influence, now attacked with vibrant belief and should have won more comfortably. Wright's greed, and his colleagues' poor finishing, ensured they did not.

Brondby, according to George Graham, the Arsenal manager, have been expressing quiet confidence about their chances (the leak could be John Jensen's father, who is on their coaching staff). They have even rejected the opportunity to cash in by playing the match in the national stadium, preferring to stage it in their own smaller, but more atmospheric, ground.

Both Arsenal and Chelsea should lay the foundations for further progress in Europe this week, though neither is likely to be involved in a classic. Not that many will be watching. Television, perhaps forewarned, has decided not to provide live coverage of either tie.

Goals: Wise (35) 1-0; Wright (41) 1-1; Campbell (53) 2-1; Wright (62) 3-1.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Seaman; Dixon, Adams (Keown, 90), Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Jensen (Selley, 80), Schwarz; Campbell, Smith, Wright. Substitute not used: Bartram (gk).

Chelsea (4-5-1): Kharin; Clarke, Kjeldbjerg, Johnsen, Sinclair; Rocastle (Shipperley, 60), Wise, Spackman, Peacock, Newton; Furlong. Substitutes not used: Lee, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

(Photograph omitted)