Football: Wright finds the vital spark

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . 3

Standard Liege. .0

GEORGE GRAHAM may protest that the Premiership is his priority, but not even he would dispute that Arsenal rediscovered their goalscoring knack when it mattered most at Highbury last night. It will come as no surprise that it coincided with Ian Wright finding his touch, too, and two of his finest, plus a pearler from Paul Merson, have taken Arsenal to within spitting distance of the quarter-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup.

It was a performance to make Arie Haan, the Standard coach of Total Football fame, eat his words about the mundane quality of British football.

This second-round tie is surely beyond the reach of a very average Belgian side, in the second leg in a fortnight's time, given Arsenal's mean defence. The Belgians came to Highbury with ambitions that rarely stretched as far as the opposition's half and were punished for it by finishing of the highest order.

However depressed Wright and company may have been feeling in the aftermath of Rotterdam, they could not have wished for a more stirring battle cry than that sounded by Norwich and Aston Villa the previous evening in European competition. Yet it was 36 minutes before Arsenal hit the target and then Jacques Munaron expertly parried Merson's prodigious right-foot drive to safety.

It was just as well then that Standard looked none too comfortable at set-pieces, an Arsenal forte. Lo and behold, in the 39th minute, Martin Keown crossed deep into the goalmouth and Wright appeared as if from a hole in the ground to flash a header past the Belgian goalkeeper.

It ended a barren run of five games for the England striker and more importantly lifted him out of the depression that threatened to run deeper still when he was booked in the 18th minute for sliding aggressively into Mircea Rednic, the Standard sweeper.

In the 51st minute, Standard were severely punished when Rednic handled Alan Smith's flick-on just outside the penalty area. Nigel Winterburn feinted to take the free- kick only for Merson instead to curl a delectable shot, Koeman-style, beyond the wall and Munaron.

The Merson-Wright show was still rolling on and in the 63rd minute, the pair of them combined for another goal of delightful quality as Merson slipped the ball to his sidekick, who impudently chipped it over Munaron to make his recovery complete.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown (Linighan, 82), Adams, Winterburn; McGoldrick, Davis, Jensen, Merson; Smith, Wright (Campbell, 82).

Standard Liege (1-4-3-2): Munaron; Rednic; Genaux, Hellers, Vervoort, Leonard; Wilmots, Pister, Van Rooy; Lashaf, Asselman (Goossens, 49).

Referee: F Kaupe (Aut).