Football: Limpar a walk-on star

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Arsenal. . .2

Chelsea. . .1

NOT for the first time in recent weeks, George Graham found himself at the last-chance saloon and once again the outcome was the same: the right shout and the Arsenal manager could pop the celebratory champagne.

Much more of this and he will be able to title his autobiography 'Great Substitutions I Have Made'. Even if his post-match joke about an 'inspired decision' is wearing thin, you have to admire Graham's ability to alter the course of the game by selecting an ace from his hand of replacements.

Anders Limpar's reprieve from another wasted afternoon had lasted barely 60 seconds when he collected the ball in his favourite left-wing position, John Jensen's eye for the right pass proving crucial on a day when so great was the commitment from either side that slightly inaccurate distribution meant possession was lost.

With a swivel of his hips Limpar made a monkey out of Nigel Spackman's attempted challenge, his cross exploited the hole opened up by Frank Sinclair's attempted clearance and typically Ian Wright was first to show amid a ruck of players for the decisive thrust and his seventh goal in 10 outings.

It was a similar story at Sheffield United and against Millwall in the Coca-Cola Cup: with a skilful reshuffle of his pack Graham has rescued games or transformed a one-point haul into three and helped Arsenal into a threatening position of seventh in the Premier League.

After frittering away numerous chances, including Lee Dixon's 67th-minute penalty, Arsenal's hold on the game had loosened so that Chelsea, given parity by Mick Harford's centre and Dennis Wise's header - what odds on that particular combination? - were looking the more likely.

Limpar had to come on but who in the ground would have agreed with Graham's decision to withdraw Paul Merson. The utilitarian had scored a wonderful opener and in a new and comfortable central midfield berth had supplied many of the game's pleasing moments.

'We wanted a new spark,' Graham said, 'and Anders provided it. He's a very talented player and like the majority of talented players he has an individual streak which when it comes off is breathtaking. When it doesn't, however, it can be a nuisance.'

A substitute's role, rather than a starting place, may increasingly become Limpar's lot at Highbury; a sobering thought for him on his journey home afterwards to Sweden for this week's World Cup tie with Bulgaria.

With the former Minister for Fun providing BSkyB's match summaries and Jeremy Beadle sitting a few seats away it could not be anything other than an entertaining afternoon. There was much excitement and sporadic glimpses of outstanding skill under tremendous pressure although sadly there was also the inevitable Wright controversy (allegations from Chelsea fans that he made gestures to them were not substantiated by police officers at the game, who will today study a video film of the match).

Goals: Merson (11) 1-0; Wise (75) 1-1; Wright (86) 2-1.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Hillier, Bould, Adams, Jensen, Wright, Smith, Merson (Limpar, 85), Campbell. Substitutes not used: Pates, Miller (gk).

Chelsea: Hitchcock; Hall, Sinclair, Townsend, Lee, Donaghy (Stuart, 20), Newton, Fleck, Harford, Spackman, Wise. Substitutes not used: Spencer, Chamberlain (gk).

Referee: K Morton (Bury St Edmunds).