Football: Wright's perfect pitch

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. . . . . . . . .1

Wright 72

Chelsea. . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 34,314

IAN WRIGHT'S newest single, '1-0 to the Arsenal', received the perfect launch at Highbury yesterday. The England striker's 73rd-minute goal, his 33rd of another prolific season, settled a London derby which only eventually recovered from the most sluggish of starts.

George Graham, the Arsenal manager, insisted afterwards that he had not yet experienced Wright's techno-house version of the Pet Shop Boys' 'Go West'. 'I've heard him sing in the bath and that's bad enough,' he said.

There was little to sing about in the first half. Lee Dixon and Kevin Campbell nearly repeated the move that propelled Arsenal to the Cup-Winners' Cup final, but the muscular striker headed over from Dixon's right-wing cross. Wright, tracked all afternoon by Frank Sinclair, then gave notice of the danger inherent whenever he recieves possession. A neat flick over Dimitri Kharin took Wright clear before Sinclair scampered back to dispossess him.

A match that had witnessed more movement in the executive boxes than the penalty boxes came to life with the introduction of Alan Smith, a second-half replacement for David Hillier, who sustained an ankle ligament injury. Smith, whose ability to hold up play proved useful against Chelsea's sweeper-strengthened defence, nearly celebrated his arrival with a goal, a nimble swivel creating enough space for him to shoot. Smith's low effort was stopped by Kharin but it served to shake up a scrappy encounter. The excitement engendered by Smith's shot even transferred to the electronic clock, which stopped for a few minutes as if to mark the occasion.

Wright was enlivened by Smith's presence. One 30-yard dribble took the Arsenal pop star past three blue shirts and then Kharin, but his fellow forwards failed to react quickly enough to a smart shot. His next intervention, with 17 minutes remaining, was far more emphatic. Eddie McGoldrick arrowed a right-wing cross into the six-yard box. Campbell and Wright both dived in for the ball, the senior partner getting the vital flick past Kharin.

The bizarre sight of the referee, Alan Wilkie, limping off - 'He must have swallowed his whistle he was using it so much,' Graham concluded - set the stage for an interesting finale. The FA Cup finalists refused to give up and, but for the excellence of David Seaman, Chelsea could have prised an important point. The England keeper twice saved instinctly from the energetic David Hopkin and even when he was beaten, by Eddie Newton's close-range shot, the post came to Arsenal's rescue.