Football: Wright fans the discontent

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The Independent Online
Arsenal 1

Overmars 18

Blackburn Rovers 3

Wilcox 57, Gallacher 65, Sherwood 89

Attendance: 38,147

These are curious times down Highbury way. A whiff of disillusion is seeping through the old marble halls as an expensively upholstered side is slipping out of the race not just for the Premiership title but for Champions' League qualification.

A move away from their treasured home is in the wind, and three second- half goals yesterday, the second a beauty by Kevin Gallacher, brought Blackburn only their second victory at Highbury since the War. To add to their woes, Ian Wright was involved in another post-match incident which required the intervention of the police, while on the field he earned a two-match suspension for another booking.

Wright's frustration had been mounting, like the crowd's, all game and he was lucky not to earn more than a yellow card for a late lunge at Stephane Henchoz. His verbal retaliation to the jeering of Arsenal fans outside the dressing room window was witnessed by a BBC reporter, who said that the troubled Arsenal striker was standing, "screaming abuse at the fans".

This latest in a catalogue of misdeeds could lead swiftly to the doors of Lancaster Gate. Scotland Yard last night confirmed that Wright had been reported for "insulting behaviour".

"It is a matter for the police," Steve Double, spokesman for the Football Association, said. "What I've heard is that there was a minor incident and the police are dealing with it." Some time soon, the equation of goals versus aggravation will no longer fall in favour of the Arsenal striker.

Like last season, inconsistency has surfaced at a critical moment for Arsenal. Four defeats in six games has left them seven points behind Manchester United and given manager Arsene Wenger a giant headache. Not the least of his worries is the erratic form of Dennis Bergkamp, who has yet to recover his inspiration since missing three games through suspension. Another idiotic booking for dissent did not please his manager. "It is a bad period and we have to find some solutions, but they will not come only from buying players," he said. The "only" was significant. Wenger's patience is beginning to run out.

That Blackburn's equaliser stemmed from a mistake by Tony Adams, whose blushes were spared by Martin Keownmoments before half-time, only added to the discomfort. The one consolation was that Chris Sutton, the villain of the day, was not on the scoresheet. Indeed, he had a quiet afternoon, the result perhaps of a warning issued by his manager, Roy Hodgson, yesterday morning.

Hodgson had been unaware of last season's controversial late equaliser which caused the ill- feeling at Highbury until he read the tabloid headlines and, after Sutton's recent dismissal at Old Trafford, he sensed the danger. "I told him to be careful," Hodgson said. "I did not want him doing anything untoward which might make life difficult for us. Overall I thought our performance was very disciplined."

Wright's petulance should not take the gloss off a polished display by Blackburn, who absorbed a well-taken early goal by Marc Overmars and an early spell of coherent Arsenal pressure. With David Platt and Emmanuel Petit working in tandem in the midfield and harrying the Blackburn defence every inch, it was the visitors who were forced to back-pedal. Only a desperate block by Tim Flowers flying out of his goal prevented Wright from scoring in the first quarter.

Had he done so, all might have been well. But once ahead, Arsenal seemed to lose their way, and were pressured into making uncharacteristic mistakes. Adams was the main culprit, gifting the ball to Jeff Kenna, whose cross was chested down for Jason Wilcox to equalise in the 57th minute. Eight minutes later came a Route One goal, but with a flourish. A long punt by Flowers was flicked on by Sutton, and Gallacher swivelled to drive a spectacular left-foot shot past David Seaman.

After that, Blackburn were in control, and when the immaculate Tim Sherwood robbed Seaman to roll the ball home in the dying seconds, his third gilt- edged chance in a minute, Arsenal's disarray was complete.

So much for the Blackburn fly-by-nights. Though their title pretensions were exposed at Old Trafford, Hodgson is fashioning a well-organised team of pace and resilience which will have to be reckoned with long into the New Year. His yardstick is not Manchester United but Arsenal.

"For us to be as high as we are after 18 games is fantastic. We are still talking not about United but about getting enough points for Europe, and what pleases me most is the six-point gap between us and Arsenal because they will be there at the end." Wenger will certainly hope so.

"It was a fight rather than a technical game and they lasted longer in the fight than we did," Wenger said. That used to be Arsenal's prerogative.

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