Football / FA Cup: Wright strikes right note for sturdy Arsenal

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Arsenal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

(after extra time; score at 90 min 2-2)

ANOTHER epic, another rousing fightback from the team who were favoured to win the championship, but instead continue to reserve their best football for the knock-out competitions. Ian Wright, returning after his three-match suspension, looked every inch the England striker in shooting Arsenal into the fifth round of the FA Cup, and killing Leeds' season stone dead.

Two years ago, these two sides needed four games to resolve a fourth-round tie, and it seemed that penalties would be needed to separate them here until Wright's decisive intervention, eight minutes from the end of extra time.

Poor Leeds, their season effectively over, three months early, had led with just three minutes of the normal period remaining only to fall victims of the indefatigable spirit which, inexplicably, seems to desert Arsenal when points rather than pots are at stake.

Both teams have fallen away since their halcyon years of 1991 and 1992 but, like the old champions they are, they habitually raise their game on occasions such as these, and remain uncommonly well-matched.

Wright, banned for the 2-2 draw which necessitated the replay, was the difference this time. Not only did he score Arsenal's second and third goals, he also made the first, for Alan Smith.

For Leeds, there are no more peaks to climb: out of the European Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup - and now the FA Cup. Eight months on from their title triumph, they are left with just the one unexciting target: respectability in the Premier League. Howard Wilkinson, their crestfallen manager, said: 'I feel like Corky the Cat who has just been run over by a steamroller, got up and had someone thump him in the stomach.'

After a nervy start, the two sides produced a gathering momentum which held an edge-of-the-seat crowd enthralled. Ian Selley, the 18- year-old promoted to the Arsenal midfield in extremis, was quick to make an impression in only his second senior appearance, albeit in negative mode when he headed over his own crossbar to negate Gordon Strachan's dangerous foray down the right.

Selley, like the unsung Steve Morrow, owed his place to the absence of John Jensen, who was suspended, and David Hillier, injured. The replacement of Ray Parlour with Kevin Campbell for the second half further enfeebled Arsenal's midfield, yet after 49 minutes they were ahead, with their first decent strike of the game.

Wright was the instigator, passing David Wetherall with ease before crossing from near the byline on the left for Smith to volley across John Lukic from four yards.

As in the first game, Leeds were in trouble. As in the first game, they responded with spirit and Arsenal, and Seaman in particular, were grateful for Nigel Winterburn's last-ditch intervention, when the goalkeeper dropped Strachan's corner. The reprieve was strictly temporary, lasting only until the 70th minute, when Carl Shutt, the hero of Barcelona, restored parity.

David Batty's throw-in was the starting point, Lee Chapman and Gary McAllister both supplying headed assists before Shutt embarrassed Lee Dixon, and his hesitant hack, by drilling the ball under Seaman from four yards.

Again Leeds' courage was to have its reward, Tony Adams' foul on Shutt, 30 yards out, setting the stage for McAllister to drive in a free-kick reminiscent of his fulminating strike at Ibrox in the European Cup. It was a goal fit to win any match, but Wright had other ideas, and with just three minutes of normal time remaining, he pivoted on Campbell's headed knock- down and drove the ball low, past Lukic's right hand, from the edge of the D.

Merson and Speed both threatened to settle it before Wright finally obviated the need for a penalty lottery when he accepted Merson's through pass 20 yards out and advanced with cool determination before shooting firmly through Lukic's attempt at an overhead save.

Leeds United: Lukic; Wetherall, Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough (Rod Wallace, 113), Whyte, Strachan (Rocastle, 83), Shutt, Chapman, McAllister, Speed.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn (O'Leary, 111), Selley, Linighan, Adams, Morrow, Wright, Smith, Merson, Parlour (Campbell, h/t).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).

(Photograph omitted)

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