Football: Wright caught on wrong foot

The Premiership: Arsenal frustrated by 10-man Spurs as Blackburn and United stretch out at the top
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Arsenal 0

Tottenham Hotspur 0

Attendance: 38,102

Arsenal's man of the moment hit the crossbar, was booked and is still short of Cliff Bastin's goal-scoring record. Ian Wright also suffered those same fates at Highbury yesterday.

No matter how hard Dennis Bergkamp, scorer of five goals in his previous two matches, and Wright laboured, a brave and resilient 10-man Tottenham Hotspur, with Sol Campbell outstanding at the heart of their defence, would not be breached.

Besides Bergkamp and Wright, Marc Overmars also struck the crossbar and the Spurs captain David Howells bumbled the ball on to his own post in an astonishing first half that also saw Justin Edinburgh sent off. Thereafter, a reorganised Spurs clung on for a worthy point from a typically muscular North London derby scattered with eight yellow cards as well as the red.

"In the first half, Arsenal were quicker, sharper and on top of their game," said the Spurs manager Gerry Francis. "I was not pleased but we certainly earned what we got." Lamented his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger: "The only way we could have won in the second half was from a set piece because Tottenham kept kicking the ball out."

In fact, Wright did have several good chances in the second, lifting one over the bar from close range and being thwarted by a marvellous tackle from Campbell, who declared himself fit only at midday after a knee ligament injury, going on to prove himself ready to join the England squad this week. Uncharacteristically jittery, Wright appears unsettled at being only one short of Bastin's 178 goals for the club.

Sometimes you would hardly know that football is supposed to be a team game, such has been the attention trained on Wright in recent weeks, culminating in the ludicrous overkill as a result of his bit part in events at Leicester in midweek. These, though, are cult-of-the-personality days with none, not even the FA, averse to cashing in.

Certainly, the England coach Glenn Hoddle has been correct in choosing Wright for the England squad, given that what happened at Filbert Street - no violence involved - has yet to be ruled on by a disciplinary commission. Furthermore, Hoddle adds, he will select him, if fit, for the squad to go to Italy in October whether or not he is banned from the domestic game.

Not to condone Wright's actions, but when the hysteria has abated it is probable that any ban will be considerably shorter than the 12 matches mooted.

The hysteria over Wright breaking Bastin's record has also been excessive. One wonders quite how many people north of Watford care, or even know how huge is the achievement, when Dixie Dean's 377 for Everton or Ian Rush's 344 for Liverpool are taken into consideration.

A greater achievement is that with his two goals against Coventry recently, Wright passed 300 for his senior career. It cannot be denied that he is a high-quality, instinctive striker hugely admired by other strikers and, to boot, he is an ebullient character who adds to the gaiety of the nation.

All the Wright stuff has tended to overshadow more significant matters for Arsenal, not least Bergkamp's remarkably skillful start to the season. On the less positive side was Wenger's error in substituting Wright at Leicester with his side coasting 2-0, as well as his continuing indulgence in public of his team's disciplinary excesses.

"I have to accept the criticism," Wenger said yesterday. "I try to convince the team that the best interest is to behave well. But I find it difficult to understand why Arsenal have a good record in Europe but not in England."

Most worrying for him were foolish yellow cards in attacking areas. Wright was booked for an unnecessary foul on Andy Sinton, whose injury forced him off the field, as the ball was going out of play while Bergkamp's was his third in three matches.

As if seeking to rid themselves of the week's frustrations, Arsenal pressed Spurs energetically from the outset yesterday. "Hoof, hoof," bellowed the Arsenal fans as Spurs frantically relieved the pressure. The ball had to be changed after 15 minutes. "Too much hoofing," someone said.

By then Arsenal had already hit a post, Steve Bould turning back Gilles Grimandi's deep cross and Howells diverting it on to the upright, and struck the goalframe again soon afterwards when Patrick Vieira teed up Overmars, who faded after an impressive start, for a 20-yard drive that struck the crossbar.

Strike three came 10 minutes before half-time when Bergkamp's 25-yarder was tipped on to the bar brilliantly by Ian Walker. Then Bergkamp slipped Wright free only for him to lift it once more on to an adjacent spot.

Sinton's exit had brought on Jose Dominguez and at last Spurs began to cling to some possession. They even had a couple of shots, David Seaman turning over Howells's 25-yard attempt and Ruel Fox clipping on to the roof of the net.

Any hopes of a win were all but extinguished, however, when Edinburgh departed just before the interval for a foul on Dixon, having already been cautioned earlier. On came Allan Nielsen and the inspirational Gary Mabbutt to replace the attacking Steffen Iversen and Fox and Spurs entrenched themselves.

Wright set the tone for the second half by sending an overhead kick into Walker's arms and despite Arsenal's patience amid the anxiety of their crowd, a sense of inevitability grew. There was much ado but just nothing about.

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