Football: Wright responds as Graham wields axe

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Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Middlesbrough. . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

A GOAL by Ian Wright just eight minutes from time gave Arsenal - and Wright - the sweet taste of relief. A point, however, was no less than they deserved. They had, in George Graham's words, 'spent the second half camped in the Middlesbrough half'. Only the most determined display by the Boro defence denied Arsenal the even sweeter savour of victory.

Things have not been going well for the Gunners. Before this fixture their league form had begun to assume the aspect of a Norwegian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest: four outings, 'nul points'. In over six-and-a-half hours of league football their 'mouthwatering' attack had failed to score a single goal. And Ian Wright's rather over-developed competitive instinct had led to a disciplinary charge from the FA.

Change was evidently needed and George Graham was not afraid to wield the axe. Kevin Campbell and John Jensen were relegated to the bench, and Anders Limpar to the stands. In place of these established names he preferred young Mark Flatts and Ray Parlour. He was also able to bring back Alan Smith after injury. These changes and Middlesbrough's shaky away form (4-1 defeats in their last two matches) gave the anxious home supporters modest cause for hope. It was, however, the visitors who showed the greater composure in the early exchanges. Tommy Wright nearly set up Paul Wilkinson with a pull- back across the face of goal. The crowd, as George Graham remarked, went 'very, very quiet.'

Ian Wright's desire to atone for last week's misdemeanours was apparent not only in his scrupulous good conduct, but also in his eagerness for goal. Indeed, if anything, he erred on the side of over- eagerness. Twice he hurried his first touch and missed inviting opportunities.

In the 27th minute, however, he displayed more characteristic composure, taking the ball past Nicky Mohan before commanding a brilliant save from Steve Pears.

The tide had already begun to run against Middlesbrough when they surprised everyone - not least themselves - by taking the lead. Craig Hignett's incisive run into the box looked to have come to nothing when Andy Linighan stepped in to whisk the ball away for a corner; alas the clearance struck an off-balance David Seaman and rebounded into the net.

Arsenal very nearly retrieved this fresh misfortune before the break: Adams headed wide, Smith shot over, and the impressive Flatts capped a brilliant run with a narrow miss.

Despite being obliged to replace Merson with Jensen at half- time, Arsenal's forward momentum was unimpaired. Indeed, their approach play began to show an increasing variety and guile. Nevertheless, the embattled but well-marshalled Middlesbrough defence stubbornly refused to give. Perhaps they scented the club's first victory at Highbury in over half a century.

On the hour Derek Whyte's robust check on Jensen inside the area brought claims for a penalty, but the referee waved play on. It was almost enough to make the North Bank mural howl.

While Middlesbrough strengthened their resolve by bringing on Willie Falconer for Hignett, Arsenal replaced Parlour with the goal-hungry Campbell.

The substitution can only have increased George Graham's considerable reputation for prescience. Campbell promptly collected the ball, cut in from the right and drove a low shot against Pears' far post. It might have been yet another moment of anguish, but Wright arrived to slide home the rebound.

Campbell very nearly snatched a winner in the closing minutes when he broke clear but placed his shot just wide of the post.

Arsenal: D Seaman; P Lydersen, N Winterburn, D Hillier, A Linighan, T Adams, M Flatts, I Wright, A Smith, P Merson (J Jensen 45 min), R Parlour (K Campbell 77 min). Sub not used: A Miller (gk). Manager: G Graham.

Middlesbrough: S Pears; C Fleming, J Phillips, N Mohan, D Whyte, J Pollock, J Hendrie (M Proctor 87 min), A Peake, P Wilkinson, C Hignett (W Falconer 64 min), T Wright. Sub not used: I Ironside (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Goals: Wilkinson (0-1, 34 min); Wright (1-1, 81 min).