Football: Wright marks Chelsea's decline

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

CHELSEA, struggling for direction in the absence of the flu-afflicted Glenn Hoddle, continue to be gripped by that debilitating virus called defeat. Their sixth Premiership loss in succession was assured in the first half yesterday by Alan Smith and Ian Wright, who both could have left the Bridge of sighs with hat-tricks.

Peter Shreeves, Hoddle's No 2, hurried in afterwards to curtail speculation over the player-manager's whereabouts. 'Can I make it 100 per cent clear that the reason Glenn is not here is because he has a bad dose of flu. He is only 50-50 for Monday (against Manchester City) but he is a strong character and will not dodge the bullets. Today I have simply stepped into the breach.'

Shreeves managed manfully, using his substitutes intelligently, but the problem patently lies not on the dug-out bench, but between the lines. Chelsea's struggle with a sophisticated system shows little sign of easing and this predicament, combined with errors in control by blue-shirted defenders, allowed Arsenal to take control after an uneasy 20 minutes and secure their first victory at the Bridge in 19 seasons.

Arsenal, missing two flu sufferers of their own in Tony Adams and John Jensen, were under pressure in the early stages as the excellent Darren Barnard and Dennis Wise carried the game to them. Even Chelsea's Shed end caught the brief mood of superiority, taunting the visitors' England goalkeeper with 'Seaman lost the World Cup', a reference to the Ronald Koeman free-kick in Rotterdam.

Unjust - but nothing seemed to perturb the ever- smiling David Seaman. The England international stood firm throughout as Chelsea's nimble attackers tried to burrow their way through. Seaman, who pulled off a splendid close- range save from Mark Stein, was also ably protected by his defenders, particularly Martin Keown, who tracked Wise like a brooding bloodhound.

Wise initially held the upper hand, a position that brought bookings for the over-attentive Keown and Paul Davis. The Chelsea captain, whose fuse is occasionally as short as his hair, refused to become embroiled and nearly gave his side a deserved lead after 21 minutes; he narrowly missed Seaman's goal following a good build-up by Neil Shipperley and Stein.

Reprieved, Arsenal drew breath and then took hold of proceedings. Paul Merson's curling corner was diverted away from Wright by Frank Sinclair but only towards Andy Linighan. The tall stopper's header back in dropped to Smith who, from eight yards out, hooked Arsenal ahead. The visiting thousands were jubilant and baited their Chelsea counterparts with 'going down'.

That remains to be seen, but the complexion of this game had altered irrevocably. Barnard made a couple of promising forays forward but the tide was going Arsenal's way and the contest was effectively settled seconds before the break. Lee Dixon's long ball found the accelerating Wright who progressed five yards into the box but, in the process of shooting, was knocked off balance by David Lee. The ball went wide but Philip Don had noticed Lee's infringement and allowed Wright to score from the spot.

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