Football: Wright limps off after striking Forest twice

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . .2

Nottingham Forest. . . . . .0

ARSENAL's season, which looked like being toasted in nothing more exotic than Diet Coke, may yet have a champagne finish, thanks mainly to Ian Wright. Having more or less assured themselves of a place in the Coca-Cola Cup final, they now go into today's sixth-round draw with a double of sorts still in mind.

They do so as a result of two superb goals by Wright but, as far as England are concerned, there was worry at the end when Wright hobbled off the field with what at first seemed like a groin strain but was diagnosed later as a slightly pulled leg muscle.

The Arsenal manager, George Graham, said that the injury gives Wright a 50-50 chance of making the World Cup clash against San Marino on Wednesday.

Quite who needed a morale- stimulating victory the most was difficult to judge. When it comes down to it, league-wise, Forest are not that much further down the slippery path than Arsenal, and, with the season the way it is, anything can happen. For some reason, though, a lot of people had got it into their heads that Brian Clough was going to bow out next May with the elusive FA Cup in one hand, a retirement cheque in the other and a relegated team.

Arsenal had already dispatched Forest from the Coca-Cola Cup but since then some of Forest's discipline had returned to support the style that had rarely left them. Characteristically, Forest smoothed their way into yesterday's tie with a luxurious 13-pass move that was eventually throttled by Tony Adams.

And so it went on. Arsenal, in spite of the welcome reappearance of Anders Limpar, bustled and prodded while Forest seemed deep in thought. Then Paul Merson applied his own imagination down the left side, admittedly without sufficient support but often enough to keep Forest mute.

This was a day when Wright more than anyone wanted to get into a scoring mood. His international future has yet to be confirmed but his sharpness bred optimism and lifted the game.

Then, after 21 minutes Ian Selley, not far into the Forest half, headed on a bouncing ball and Wright penetrated the small space between Carl Tiler and Steve Chettle and at the same time struck a high, dipping volley wide of Mark Crossley. Better goals will be rare this season.

The intricacy of so many Forest moves, especially those involving Nigel Clough and Ian Woan, threatened more than they achieved. Clough had to take the rap for failing to get accuracy with his close-in shot when Roy Keane's cross flew invitingly into his path. The error was soon punished when Wright upstaged himself. Two minutes into first-half injury time, he weaved between Tiler and Pearce and turned away from Chettle before driving a shot in off the crossbar. His first goal was instinctive, his second showed control born of growing confidence.

Some remaining doubts about the fitness of Stuart Pearce became more relevant when Forest urgently needed to lift themselves out of their ominous situation. A few more of his surging runs and his team might have revived. As it was Forest's pleasant football never deserted them, but there was no fire in their hearts.

Their pace remained unchanged and they had no equivalents of Merson and Limpar to put Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn under similar pressure. Indeed, Wright may have captured the day with his breathtaking goals but Merson continued to provide Arsenal with their best opportunities as he thrust inwards from the left.

The replacement of Neil Webb with Gary Crosby marginally invigorated Forest, though Tony Adams and Andy Linighan were rarely concerned. David Seaman once needed to scuffle across goal to nullify Crosby's first effort, but that was a rare serious danger. At least Forest could claim that, in the second half, they managed to keep a semblance of control over Wright who probably thought he had done enough for one day, and was preserving himself for an even more important one for England. In this scoring form he can hardly fail to open his international account, provided the pull suffered at the end is not too serious.

Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, D Hillier, A Linighan, T Adams, J Jensen, I Wright (S Morrow, 89 min), I Selley, P Merson, A Limpar (K Campbell, 87 min). Manager: G Graham.

Nottingham Forest: M Crossley; B Laws, S Pearce, C Tiler, S Chettle, R Keane, G Bannister, S Gemmill, N Clough, N Webb (G Crosby, 70 min), I Woan. Sub not used: G Charles. Manager: B Clough.

Referee: A Gunn (South Chailey, Sussex).

Goals: Wright (1-0, 21 min); Wright (2-0, 45 min).

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