Football: Wright works at establishing a national identity: Commentary

Click to follow
'IAN WRIGHT, Wright, Wright', Highbury's salute to its latest idol, is as appropriate a moniker as they come. The analysts' nightmare has three identities: the livewire who rains in goals for Arsenal, the novice who suffered a terrible drought at international level and the one who went some way towards bridging the gap with that important equaliser in Poland.

If Wright could play for England with the swaggering authority he shows for his club, the World Cup would be a formality rather than an uphill struggle. The second goal he scored in Arsenal's 2-0 win on Saturday would make him an overnight sensation - a younger Roger Milla - in the United States next summer. But first, of course, he has to get there.

If there was ever any doubt about Wright's selection for Poland's return visit next week, which is unlikely, he will have removed it with his razor-sharp dissection of the Everton defence.

Where doubt does remain is in his ability to have the same destructive effect on international defenders. One goal in seven games for England is in stark contrast to his 43 in 66 League appearances as the Gunners' main armament.

The theory that it is all just a matter of confidence falls down, to some extent, on Wright's insistence that his state of mind is no different whether the shirt be red or white. There is a certain amount of bravado in that, and a goal or two would undoubtedly make him more comfortable in international company. The greatest obstacle he has to overcome, though, is the quality of the opposition.

There are not too many easy touches - no Matthew Jacksons to embarrass - in World Cup football, and the pace which serves him so well in the Premiership is largely negated internationally by the omnipresent sweeper, whose function is to pick off those darting infiltrations which are his stock in trade.

Wright will play against the Poles on Wednesday week, and deservedly so. He is the best around. It is difficult to envisage any other English striker scoring that second goal on Saturday, when he juggled the ball from right foot to left, like a latter-day Worthington or Bowles, thoroughly bemusing poor Jackson, before finally using his right to beat Neville Southall with the most dextrous of lifted finishes.

Show-stopping stuff from a real showman, but it would be unreasonable to expect the party pieces to come off against the Poles, whose rugged defenders will be rather less accommodating. George Graham loved it, and said that one breathtaking moment had been worth the price of admission, which was just as well, really. An excrutiating first half would have had those put-upon Highbury punters queuing for refunds.

'The suckers say give us our money back', proclaimed a large banner on the old North Bank - a reference, presumably, to the chairman's derisory description of his bond scheme subscribers, rather than the banality of Arsenal's pin-table football.

The dropping of Paul Merson, a flair player, in favour of David Hillier, a dogged scuffler, and the continued omission of the gifted Anders Limpar said it all about Graham's safety-first intentions. The right and left-sided midfield men tucked in, congesting the central area, where no one could move more than a couple of yards without a tackle flying in, and cohesive progress was impossible.

Everton favoured the same formation - 'compact' is the managerial euphemism - with the result that the match was dying a slow and painful death until a transfusion of new blood revived it.

Half-time found Graham as dissatisfied as the rest of us. 'I told the boys beforehand to play with a bit of patience, but that was taking it to extremes.'

Patience? The card game would have been more of a spectacle.

Relief came with the arrival of Merson, who had a point to prove, and wasted no time in proving it. His public declaration that he no longer wanted to play in midfield, or on the wing, but as a striker had drawn a predictable reaction from the bullish Graham, to whom any form of dissent is a rag of Arsenal hue. Fair enough, he reasoned. Merson would not play at all. Or at least only as a substitute.

The decision, it must be said, did wonders for Merson's motivation. When he was let off the leash, for the second half, he ran like a man inspired, and the whole team was lifted by his energy and endeavour.

So would be be in from the start against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday? Graham was noncommital. 'There is a little bit of psychology involved, and Blackburn is an away game. Things might be different.' It will be hard to leave him out. Bursting forward from deep, Merson might have scored within 25 seconds of his introduction, shooting against a post from a near-impossible angle.

Instead it was Wright who broke the stalemate, albeit from an offside position, when he advanced on Kevin Campbell's headed flick before driving in low, from right to left, from six yards.

One goal was always going to be enough, the second a delightful adornment. Everton were so poor, so devoid of ambition, that there was never any prospect of them building on the flier they had from three wins against modest opposition (Southampton, Sheffield United and Manchester City). They took 42 minutes to come up with a strike at goal, and then John Ebbrell was well off target.

It looks like being another hard winter for Howard Kendall, who claimed, in mitigation, that the injured Dave Watson would have coped better with Wright, and that Peter Beagrie had been 'badly missed.'

If they are reduced to pining for Beagrie, the archetypal in and out winger, Everton's troubles are worse than we thought.

Goals: Wright (48) 1-0; Wright (78) 2-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Keown, Linighan, Adams, Winterburn; McGoldrick, Parlour, Jensen, Hillier (Merson, h/t); Wright, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Selley, Miller (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Holmes, Jackson, Ablett, Hinchcliffe; Stuart (Radosavljevic, 58), Horne, Ebbrell, Ward; Rideout, Cottee (Barlow, 72). Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

(Photograph omitted)

Comments