Nottingham Forest. .0
IAN WRIGHT may be too hot- headed for some tastes, but Arsenal again had good reason to be grateful for his ice-cold finishing last night, when he signed off before a three-match suspension by installing them in the last four of the Coca-Cola Cup.
Two more goals from the England striker, taking his total for the season to 17, enabled his team to emerge from a tentative start and earn a home-and-away semi- final against Crystal Palace, the first leg of which is at Selhurst Park on 7 February.
Palace beware. Wright's well- publicised assault on Tottenham's David Howells has condemned him to miss the Premier League games against Manchester City and Liverpool, and the FA Cup tie against the winners of tonight's Charlton-Leeds replay, but he completes his sentence just in time to face his old club.
He was the difference between the two sides last night, pointing up Forest's urgent need for a 25 goals a season man to replace Teddy Sheringham.
The Premier League's bottom team gave as good as they got in all phases bar finishing. Given a cutting edge at what should be the sharp end, they would have had a replay instead of what was only their third defeat in 38 games in Brian Clough's most rewarding competition.
The League Cup, under its various pseudonyms, has taken Forest to Wembley three times in the last four years, and they arrived in good heart in the belief that the venue, as well as the tournament, has talismanic properties.
A couple of months ago, when Arsenal were winning 1-0 at the City Ground during a sequence of six successive victories, the outcome of such a tie would have been a foregone conclusion. No longer. Forest may still be bumping along on the bottom of the table, but they arrived as the form team, having won each of their last two matches in the League, whereas Arsenal are without a win in eight.
Results apart, the fixture also provided a contrast in styles. Forest are sticking to tried and trusted principles, passing and playing through midfield. Arsenal, on the other hand, like to get the ball forward early and use their middle men mainly to retrieve lost possession. Their victory was a triumph of pace over precision.
Without their cup-tied playmaker, Neil Webb, Forest's approach work lacked some of its customary purpose and penetration, and their cause was further hampered when Terry Wilson, back for the first time since September, limped off after 15 minutes.
Arsenal began with a flurry which had Highbury in good voice, but Andy Linighan's far-post header was wide, Paul Merson's 20- yarder saved, and the atmosphere, which George Graham insists has been excessively pessimistic of late, was for a long time apprehensive rather than inspirational.
Graham had been looking for a match-winning contribution from the one Arsenal player who would not be out of place in Forest red, but Anders Limpar was in subdued mood after an early clattering which brought Brian Laws a booking, and he withdrew, lame, four minutes before half-time.
Forest played with the confidence one might expect from a team who had come to regard Highbury as a lucky ground. Beaten only once in six visits, they soon threatened to improve that record with a 25-yarder from Ian Woan which had David Seaman plunging full-length to his right.
Arsenal reappeared for the second half in more assertive mood, and Merson, Smith and Wright all had shots saved before they took the lead, after 54 minutes.
Kevin Campbell's through-pass caught the Forest defence square, and appealing vainly for offside, as Wright accelerated clear to beat Mark Crossley with a crisp strike on the run. He might have scored twice more before he put the issue beyond doubt, 12 minutes from the end.
John Jensen's cross found its way into the danger area via Smith's knock-down and an inviting lay-off from Campbell which allowed Wright to pick his spot and sidefoot home with careful deliberation.
Peerless finishing. They are going to miss him.
Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Hillier, Linighan, Adams, Jensen, Wright, Smith, Merson, Limpar (Campbell, 43). Substitute not used: O'Leary.
Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Chettle, Tiler, Keane, Black (Stone, 75), Gemmill, Clough, Wilson (Orlygsson, 15), Woan.
Referee: R Gifford (Llanbradach).
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