Football: Overmars the Highbury overlord

Arsenal 1 Bergkamp 35 Sheffield Wednesday 0 Attendance: 38 ,087
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The Independent Online
DENNIS Bergkamp's 19th goal of the season provoked a mixture of emotions for Arsenal; relief as it enabled them to keep up the pursuit of Manchester United at the top of the Premiership, but sadness too at being reminded of what they will be missing for the next three matches as the Dutchman serves a suspension.

This was the home side's fourth 1-0 win in five League matches - a run of 11 games unbeaten, seven of them won, and seven successive clean sheets - but it was far removed from the eked-out one-nils to the Arsenal of old. They dominated from start to finish with some mobile interplay against an ineffectual Sheffield Wednesday and the fact that they did not eat into Manchester United's superior goal difference was down not only to their own indifferent finishing but also to the excellence of Kevin Pressman in goal.

Still, points were the priority for Arsenal as they moved closer to the 75 points that their coach, Arsene Wenger, believes will win the title. Whether six wins from their last nine games will be enough or not, the simple fact - but difficult to fulfil - is that if they keep winning, then the Championship will be theirs.

The sun shone and spring was in the north London air; it was certainly in Arsenal's step. None more so than Marc Overmars, general tormentor and scorer of the solitary goal at Old Trafford a fortnight ago. Some sleight of foot saw his marker Earl Barrett dive in for an early booking and thereafter the Dutchman, a protected species, was able to run wild against the hesitant full-back.

From Bergkamp's free-kick, Tony Adams's header at the far post was bundled away for a corner by Dejan Stefanovic and when Stephen Hughes swung in the kick Christopher Wreh headed against the bar. Then Nigel Winterburn's excellent pass inside Barrett sent Overmars in for a cross which Bergkamp met with a header which went just wide.

Soon after, the imperious Adams began a move from his own penalty area and surged forward to meet Winterburn's cross, the ball eventually falling to Wreh, whose powerful shot on the turn was narrowly wide. Next it was Bergkamp, turning Stephen Hughes's low cross wide. Arsenal's dominance of both possession and territory was almost total, helped by Wednesday's inability to keep the ball for long. Patrick Vieira and Hughes, deputising for the injured Emmanuel Petit, enjoyed the run of midfield against two converted centre-backs out of their depth in Dejan Stefanovic and Peter Atherton. "Our game was fluent and we created chances with some good movement," said Wenger. "We were a danger always in the first half." The Wednesday manager Ron Atkinson had a different explanation: "I thought they had 15 players on the park."

But it took a rare threat from Wednesday to spur Arsenal into breaking the deadlock. Mark Pembridge escaped on the left and rounded David Seaman - returning from a broken finger to replace Alex Manninger - before sending in a low cross to Barrett. Winterburn intervened with an excellent last- ditch tackle.

Upfield Arsenal went and Barrett again had to back off as Overmars received the ball, allowing the left winger to look up, pick out Bergkamp's run between Des Walker and Goce Sedloski, a Macedonian making his first start, and deliver to his fellow Dutchman. Bergkamp met the floated ball with a delicately cushioned side-footed volley low into the far corner.

It seemed as if Arsenal would go on to win the match comfortably from there and they began the second half believing it. Ray Parlour ran from deep and, as the Wednesday defence parted thanks to a clever decoy run by Wreh, sent in a shot which Pressman grabbed gratefully. Then Bergkamp drew a stunning tip-over from the goalkeeper with a neat chip and Overmars a flying save with a 25-yard shot. When the second goal would not come, an anxiety crept into the crowd, which transmitted itself to the team, but they need not have worried. Paolo Di Canio's long-range shot a yard too high was the nearest Wednesday came.

Arsenal will go to Bolton on Tuesday night without the hamstrung Lee Dixon, as well as Bergkamp, and Ian Wright remains a week or so away from fitness. Now we will see if they still have enough components beyond their outstanding defensive organisation to maintain their mood and momentum.

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