Football: Mean machine rolls on: Arsenal rely on Adams' rock and Wright's pop

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

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FITTINGLY, as so few teams discover the key to Arsenal's back door, the Gunners celebrated their 21st clean sheet in 37 Premiership games this season on Saturday.

No professional club in Britain comes close to Arsenal's record of conceding only 21 goals (a frugality that helps underpin the 'boring' reputation); and only Milan, La Coruna, Ajax and Paris St- Germain, leaders in their respective countries, can match such parsimony in the premier European leagues.

It is in the nature of both football and news reporting to praise scorers above stoppers, glorying in the dramatic before the pragmatic, but Ian Wright, again the subject of Highbury headlines following his winner against Chelsea, regularly emphasises the excellence of Arsenal's defence. Wright's prescient new song, '1-0 to the Arsenal', underscores his prolific contribution, but the pop Gunner knows his '1' is useless without the '0'.

Even without Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, the rear Gunners shut out the FA Cup finalists. Steve Morrow slotted in comfortably as Winterburn's replacement, occasionally curling promising passes up the left towards Wright and Kevin Campbell. Keown, Bould's understudy, was less impressive, notably during a petty second- half feud with the impish opposition, but still presented a sizeable central barrier.

The regular bulwarks, Tony Adams and Lee Dixon, were their usual solid selves, Dixon even setting up Eddie McGoldrick's cross from which a diving Wright settled an initially impoverished derby. It was the first time Wright properly escaped Frank Sinclair, who, if Neil Ruddock is the new yardstick, warrants inclusion at a future England get-together.

On the rare occasions Chelsea did unlock the door, David Seaman was on hand to deny them, conspicuously with two exceptional late saves from the lively David Hopkin. A draw would certainly not have flattered Chelsea, who, like their vocal entourage, kept the blue flag flying right to the end but still need a victory to remove them completely from the relegation equation.

After stretching their unbeaten League run to 16, which has taken them all the way from fifth to fourth, Arsenal can tomorrow prise third place from Newcastle (and the possibility of Uefa Cup duty). But the Gunners' defence, whose all-round expertise appears to grow with each exposure to European teams and tactics, will need all their renowned resilience to withstand those arch Anglo- Saxons from Wimbledon.

Goal: Wright (72) 1-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Morrow; McGoldrick, Hillier (Smith, h/t), Parlour, Selley; Wright, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Linighan, Miller (gk).

Chelsea (5-3-2): Kharin; Clarke, Sinclair, Lee, Kjeldbjerg, Donaghy; Hopkin, Wise, Newton; Peacock, Spencer. Substitutes not used: Barnard, Spackman, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).