Football: Overmars' thrills a tonic for Wenger

Coventry 0 Arsenal 1
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BEFORE ARSENE WENGER makes his decision today on whether Tony Adams will be fit enough to face Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday he will give himself a good talking-to. His message will be simple but poignant: it's only a game.

The death of a Coventry City steward after a collision with the Arsenal team coach outside Highfield Road on Saturday put life into perspective for the Frenchman and his players. Compared to the loss the man's family is feeling this morning, defeat for Arsenal in the Ukraine this week does, Wenger is the first to admit, pale into insignificance.

Whatever Kiev have in store for the Gunners it can be nowhere near as traumatic as the sight that greeted them as they got off the coach. "They kept asking how the man was," Wenger said. "We didn't know he had died until the game was over, but their hearts weren't really in it."

It is to Arsenal's eternal credit that somehow they were able to put such an incident to one side for 90 minutes and produce a performance which not only reinforced their claim on the Premiership title again but also graphically illustrated Coventry's problems early enough to let them do something about it.

The performances of Adams's stand-in, Steve Bould, and partner Martin Keown was sufficiently rocklike to allow Wenger the luxury of not having to worry too much about whether his captain is fit enough to make it to Kiev or not.

Same again, as far as Marc Overmars is concerned. He was press-ganged into a striking role in the absence of the injured Dennis Bergkamp and as the no-flying Dutchman will not be travelling this week, the chances are his friend and countryman will be filling in again for him in a crucial Champions' League match for both sides.

Wenger insists he will delay a decision on that problem until the last minute, but even he has to admit that there is no one else with the speed and flair to unlock the Kiev defence in the devastating manner that Overmars displayed on Saturday.

Picking the ball up deep in his own half Overmars left at least two defenders trailing with scintillating speed before unleashing a shot that Magnus Hedman could only turn into the path of Nicolas Anelka. With an open goal at his mercy the French teenager did not need to be told twice what to do with the ball.

Even without Adams and Bergkamp, Arsenal were comfortably able to hold on to a one-goal advantage with the style and resolve they will need to reproduce in abundance to pass the sterner test that awaits them in the Ukraine.

Poor Coventry, meanwhile, are in mourning in more ways than one. With the inspirational Dion Dublin seemingly on his way to Villa Park, there is little to suggest that this winter will not be a long one for them.

Darren Huckerby and Noel Whelan did not show the nous to break down the brick wall that is Arsenal's back four and one suspects it will probably take all of the pounds 6m plus they are rumoured to be receiving for Dublin to find someone capable of orchestrating another Houdini-style escape for which Coventry are renowned. Speculation that QPR's Kevin Gallen is the man for the job would, on present form, stir serious doubts among their suffering fans.

Under Saturday's circumstances, the manager, Gordon Strachan, was proud of the way his players stuck to their tasks, but as his Dutch midfielder George Boateng said afterwards: "It's at times like these that you really realise this is only a game." No one would disagree with that.

Goal: Anelka (63) 0-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Breen, M Hall; Telfer, Boateng (Clement, 70), McAllister (P Hall, 78), Froggatt; Whelan, Huckerby (Soltvedt, 78). Substitutes not used: Edworthy, Ogrizovic (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Keown, Winterburn; Parlour, Petit, Vieira, Ljungberg (Boa Morte, 45); Anelka, Overmars (Hughes, 80). Substitutes not used: Vivas, Grimandi, Manninger (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Coventry: Telfer, M Hall. Arsenal: Ljungberg.

Attendance: 23,040.

Man of the match: Bould.