Football: Record Wright does the trick

Highbury acclaims its highest achiever as the history-making striker takes his haul to five in a week; Arsenal 4 Wright 20,25,81 Parlour 44 Bolton 1 Thompson 13 Attendance: 38,138
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The Independent Online
Ian WrIght has at last claimed his place as Arsenal's most successful goalscorer in the club's history. And how. By scoring a hat-trick at Highbury yesterday, he conclusively passed Cliff Bastin's 58-year-old record of 178 goals.

He may offend those who forlornly try to uphold the standards of the club that used to insist on absolute discipline, but his own brand of absolute dedication to Arsenal required some lasting recognition. He has certainly won that and on the day celebrated in some style.

Tottenham fans would be only too pleased to remind Wright that Jimmy Greaves scored 220 goals for them in the League alone while, more topically, Bolton's Nat Lofthouse accrued 255. Nevertheless, defences of today are more nimble and consist of more than two full-backs and a centre-half. So the long wait for Wright to overtake Bastin in part reflects changing times.

He came to the match spry from his two-goal performance for England on Wednesday, which Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said "eased the pressure on him".

Wright himself agreed that the match at Wembley had taken his mind off the record. "But this is the best week of my footballing life. I am so relieved that I can now get on with my game. The record goal was easy, the goalie was a bit unlucky because of a ricochet. I knew I wouldn't miss. I was happy even before I put the ball in."

Wenger added: "I can see him wanting 200 goals, then 210 - that's the way champions are. I don't think this will make him any less ambitious. He is more of a complete player now, but at his age you still have to think in the short term. I don't know how much longer he can carry on in this form, but his record and the way the players reacted shows how well he is accepted here."

The fact that Bolton were without pounds 7m-worth of defenders in Neil Cox, Robbie Elliot and Mark Fish also had some bearing on Wright's performance. When he came within a fraction of properly directing the ball as it came off a post from Ray Parlour's third-minute shot, it seemed a formality that he would quickly achieve his aim.

Arsenal completely dominated. Dennis Bergkamp extracted a desperate diving save from Keith Branagan, but suddenly Bolton defied the tide. A deep cross from Nathan Blake found the Arsenal defence unusually insecure. Alan Thompson headed high and David Seaman could only push the ball in under the bar. Highbury was stunned, but only temporarily.

Since Bergkamp has probably never been in better form, it was perhaps inevitable that he should supply Wright with the chance to equal Bastin's record. His shrewd 21st-minute pass allowed Wright to move through the Bolton penalty area, draw out Branagan and beat him comfortably. Four minutes later, Wright could really begin to celebrate.

Again Bergkamp created the opportunity, toying with the Bolton defence on a run that took him deep into the penalty area. His shot was partially blocked, Patrick Vieira followed up and the ball spun away for Wright to push in with his familiar predatory guile and a little help by bowling over Gudni Bergsson. Every Arsenal player and one or two from Bolton went to congratulate him as he lifted his shirt to reveal the number 179 on his vest.

Arsenal's reaction was to re-establish their total control. Parlour was particularly inventive, and just before half-time roamed into the penalty area before driving a shot that deflected painfully off Jimmy Phillips beyond Branagan and into the net for Arsenal's third.

All Bolton could hope was that Blake's strength and speed could be allied to their occasional counter-attacks. Twice early in the second half they managed to release him, but on both occasions he failed to complete his work which, in view of Arsenal's smooth dominance, was dispiriting.

Possibly with their midweek Uefa Cup game in Greece in mind, Arsenal attempted to pace themselves with disciplined possession in midfield and defending as far away from their own goal as convenient. They even allowed Parlour and Marc Overmars to be replaced well before the end.

David Platt announced his arrival with a sumptuous long curling pass to Wright, who found space in the penalty area and again used it superbly, driving in his third goal before being excused the last eight minutes. Highbury afforded him a massive ovation. Bolton simply looked relieved.

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