Football / FA Premiership: Wright provides striking answer

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The Independent Online
Arsenal . . . . . . .2

Wright 15, Smith 60

Newcastle United. . .1

Beardsley 61

Attendance: 36,091

YESTERDAY'S crossing of swords between England's sharpest goalscorers, Arsenal's Ian Wright and Newcastle's Andy Cole, was conclusively won by Wright. Arsenal's victory was less than conclusive and the credit for that was all due to Newcastle, 'a team to praise in a match of excellent value', as George Graham rightly observed.

Much as Arsenal have to believe that Manchester United can still be caught, it was not Premiership matters that provided the biggest enticement at Highbury but the prospect of making comparisions between the comparatively young Cole, 22, and the older Wright, 29. Cole's recent form - 22 goals in 18 matches - had significantly enhanced his claim to the problematic main England striker role that Wright has never quite made his own.

Cole's return to Arsenal was poignant for Graham, who had found him surplus to requirements, letting him go to Bristol City. The chances of Cole making Graham pay heavily for that decision were obviously high. He was in a purple patch, having taken his total of goals to 34 in 30 games since moving north. So Newcastle arrived fired up and encouraged to find that Tony Adams and Andy Linighan were both flu victims. Even so, it was Wright who fired the real shots.

Anticipation was well-founded. Cole and Wright took centre stage. For nearly 15 minutes Arsenal were confined to breakaways as Newcastle stroked their way forward pleasingly while Arsenal's defence fumbled uncertainly. Yet once Wright and Alan Smith had begun to find their feet, Arsenal were the more hungry.

Cole had only just spurned his first chance, failing to get any pace on a snap-shot from Lee Clark's penetrating ball into the penalty area, when, after 15 minutes, Wright struck. Stephen Morrow placed a corner into the Newcastle penalty area where Steve Bould headed on. Wright headed firmly forward and found a gap between defenders.

Newcastle remained patient with Beardsley occasionally inventing a stunning pass. Even so, Arsenal imposed sufficient confinement on both him and Cole to feel satisfied.

The rivalry between strikers became ever more interesting. Wright clearly had the edge but Cole was always on the verge of infiltrating the Arsenal defence. All the time that Arsenal could keep Beardsley oppressively marked, however, Newcastle were deprived of the real value of their catalyst. Martin Keown and Lee Dixon did that job efficiently and Arsenal narrowly failed to repeat their first- half goal early in the second when Paul Merson's corner was headed on by Bould. This time Wright could not get power into his header. Nevertheless, Newcastle failed to be warned about the consequences of not countering this pre-planned ploy.

After a little over an hour, Arsenal simply repeated their set piece, Merson's corner being headed across goal by Bould with Smith heading in. Newcastle's need to have Beardsley find some room became urgent. A minute after Arsenal's second goal, Cole shrewdly slipped a pass through the penalty area and at last Beardsley was unmarked. A slight turn, glance at the target and shot, and England knew what they had been missing. Kevin Keegan mischievously suggested that we could yet see Beardsley and Wright in the same England team.

Newcastle's commendable patience and determination to play their way back into contention contrasted with Arsenal's power and directness, creating a crusading last 20 minutes. In that time Wright twice broke clear only to take the ball a few paces too far and Steve Watson struck the base of the Arsenal post. Newcastle should at least have had a point for creativity.