Football: Graham pays for caution

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Manchester City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THE danger of depending on others, especially your rivals from up the road, was brought home to Arsenal when the single point they probably thought would be enough for their immediate purposes, actually left them further behind Manchester United.

With Spurs losing at Old Trafford, United now have such a comfortable buffer thatLondon's interest already seems to have gone into serious decline.

Though you would never have guessed it, this was a threatening match for Arsenal, and the threat had less to do with Manchester City than with United who had also contributed players to England in midweek and have European commitments on Wednesday yet reacted positively to the challenge of increasing their lead while George Graham, typically, chose to be cautious.

Graham decided not to include Paul Merson and John Jensen after their international exertions and 'because Wednesday's match against Standard Liege is more important because we can always recoup League points'. Such confidence is not justified by Arsenal's recent performances.

If Graham's decision had risks equally it reunited Alan Smith with Ian Wright. Smith's provision of the ball ahead of Wright rather than from behind is usually menacing, and here he quickly offered reminders of a natural partnership. Wright failed to respond.

As always Arsenal cast their eyesover opposition and invited them to do their worst. The invitation was gratefully accepted and for most of the first half City's busy attempts to feed Niall Quinn before Tony Adams and Andy Linighan could intervene were moderately successful. For their own part, however, efforts to get Wright into the City penalty area were frustrated. A lot of earnest though indecisive midfield play wasted the benefits of such a perfect afternoon and a bowling-green pitch.

What chances there were lacked clear sights of goal until the 37th minute when Wright sailed a centre across the penalty area from the left, which went over Smith towards Eddie McGoldrick, but Tony Coton emerged to fist the danger away.

The fear of taking responsibility purged the game of individuality. City were just as fearful as Arsenal and when Lee Dixon timidly attempted a headed back-pass that was never going to reach David Seaman, Mike Sheron had every opportunity to take on the goalkeeper but opted for a shot that was struck aimlessly and unambitiously.

In a week of refereeing controversy it would be unlike Roger Milford to be entirely left out. Thus, after 58 minutes, a long clearance from Adams bounced to the edge of the City penalty area to where Coton had run. The problem was that Coton kept on running and after crossing the boundary had the ball firmly headed into his chest by Keith Curle. The goalkeeper instinctively put up his hands and pushed the ball away. Mr Milford took a sympathetic line and merely showed the yellow card. Graham had no complaint. 'If it had happened to my goalkeeper I wouldn't have expected him to be sent off.'

Only in the last 20 minutes did Arsenal make positive moves to snatch the game. Although Quinn did eventually slide the ball past David Seaman, only to be called offside, the flow of those final minutes was almost all in City's direction.

Kevin Campbell was brought on in an effort to break down a stubborn defence but still Arsenal floundered in the penalty area. Wright had one of those days he usually reserves for internationals, forever getting into promising situations without ever looking like scoring. City badly needed to improve their confidence though achieving it said more about Arsenal's outlook than their own chances of lightening their burdens.

(Photograph omitted)