Football: Graham's 'unlucky Arsenal'

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The Independent Online
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MUCH more of this and the Arsenal Museum, which opened on Friday, will have to include as an exhibit Paul Merson's overhead kick against Southampton. A deflected, somewhat fortunate goal, it nevertheless has become something of a collector's item as each successive Saturday shows another empty net.

The Premiership well has run dry and the nil-nils are stacking up, four in an unsightly row, which is no mean achievement for a side boasting Ian Wright, Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell, not to mention the mercurial Merson.

Equally perverse is the response of the Arsenal punter. The Southampton game on 25 September was a dire spectacle yet back they came, and in more numbers, for the visit of Manchester City - hardly great entertainers themselves in this period of Brian Horton's consolidation - to post the club's biggest attendance of the season so far. That was another shocker yet back they came again, and yet more besides, to witness Norwich's second visit to Highbury in five days and another stalemate to follow the one in the Coca-Cola Cup.

Two days hence, this would be a scoreline from which both teams could take satisfaction, confirming their progress to the next round of their respective European competitions. Norwich, acclimatising for what is likely to be another prolonged defensive operation when Bayern Munich attempt to retrieve their surprising 2-1 deficit from the Uefa Cup first leg, had all the luck going, and Mike Walker was honest enough to admit so afterwards. Three times in the final few minutes they were so nearly breached. Ian Crook twice intervened on the line while the crossbar rescued them from Ian Wright's twisting header.

George Graham was right to complain that his team were worth a two-goal margin and justified in suggesting the stock newspaper headline concerning them should be amended to read 'Unlucky Arsenal'. Yet the Highbury manager strayed from the path of reason when he said that their passing was 'excellent', adding 'we outpassed a so-called passing team'.

All too often Paul Davis and John Jensen sent the ball square and behind when what was required was the imagination to force the admirable Norwich defenders to turn and face their own goal, although Anders Limpar's return was welcomed and an unqualified success.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn (Keown, 80); Limpar, Jensen, Davis, Merson; Smith (Campbell, 85), Wright. Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Norwich (1-3-5-1): Gunn; Culverhouse; Prior, Butterworth, Newman: Fox, Crook, Megson, Eadie, Bowen; Sutton. Substitutes not used: Johnson, Akinibiyi, Howie (gk).

Referee: L Dilkes (Mossley).