FOOTBALL: Rioch admits rebuilding work has to continue

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1
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The Independent Online
Whether or not it was the indignation of being overtaken in the league by Spurs, but the Arsenal manager, Bruce Rioch, was talking in terms of a major overhaul at Highbury on Saturday after watching his side scramble a point against a Chelsea team whose own rebuilding programme looks well on the way.

Eighty-seven minutes spent deservedly second best until Lee Dixon's bolt from the blue left Rioch to reflect: "There's more work that needs to be done here than people imagine."

The previous incumbent,Rioch said , had spoken of the need to rebuild just prior to his departure and he was not about to disagree.

The club may have a tradition for producing their own but if Arsenal are to maintain the level of success they enjoyed under George Graham, Rioch's transfer involvement is unlikely to stop at the pounds 13m he spent during the summer.

Rioch is known to be bitterly dissatisfied with the service - particularly from the flanks - supplied to the front men and his own signing, David Platt, whose goal-scoring potential, he said, was not being properly exploited because of it. "They need good quality service and I'm talking Alan Hinton, John Robertson-type," he said. "We lost five players at the end of last season and bought two and the coaching staff said they were short last season as it was."

In a week that saw Dutch football highlight the inadequacies of the British game it is ironic that the first casualty in the shake-up could be Glenn Helder, who was Graham's last signing. His service is far too erratic for Rioch's liking and yet also, ironically, it was from his corner, admittedly not a very good one, that Arsenal equalised when the ball was only half cleared.

Glenn Hoddle's reaction to having a victory that would have been only Chelsea's second in 21 years at Highbury snatched from his grasp was that of a man who had narrowly missed out on the Treble Chance only to come up on the Lottery. With his penchant for finding draws - this was their fourth in succession - that might be hard to believe, but Hoddle must feel he is close to hitting on a winning formula.

His tactics appeared to be spot on here deploying the same as those which had befuddled Manchester United at Old Trafford a fortnight ago. At first sight it may look a million miles away from his philosophy on how the game should be played but his 5-3-1-1 formation is wonderfully fluent, just lacking a sharper cutting edge. The trio of central midfielders operate as a genuine buffer for defence when under attack while the role of the wing-backs, Dan Petrescu and Terry Phelan, is crucial, as is the stickability of the lone attacker, Mark Hughes.

In the continued absence of the injured Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal, by Rioch's own admission, made the mistake of being over-cautious, man-marking not one but two Chelsea players, Dennis Wise and John Spencer, in the first half when they did not muster a shot worthy of the name. Even when those tactics were dispensed with and Chelsea lost Phelan with a hamstring, they struggled to breakdown the opposition.

When Steve Bould was dismissed after 78 minutes for a second clumsy tackle on Hughes of the kind that is no longer tolerated in the modern game, we did not give an iota for Arsenal's chances. But we were forgetting what Hoddle described as the 10-men's "emotional crutch". With both Tony Adams and Bould suspended next week at Anfield, Arsenal had better watch out Liverpool don't kick it away.

Goals: Spencer (25) 0-1; Dixon (87) 1-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Platt, Keown, Jensen (Helder, h-t), Merson; Wright, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Linighan, Dickov.

Chelsea (5-3-1-1): Kharin; Petrescu, Myers, Lee, Duberry, Phelan (Clarke, h-t); Wise, Burley, Newton; Spencer (Furlong, 88); Hughes. Substitute not used: Hitchock (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Sending-off: Arsenal: Bould. Bookings: Chelsea: Petrescu, Hughes.

Man of the match: Burley.

Attendance: 38,295