FootballWright's hat-trick lifts the gloom

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The Independent Online
Arsenal 4 Sheffield Wednesday 1

It does not work for Manchester City but the Chaos Theory of football is clearly succeeding at Highbury. A hat-trick from Ian Wright, completing 100 league goals for the club, and David Platt's first goal of the season last night took Arsenal to eighth in the Premiership, three points behind the leaders, Liverpool.

Given the managerial uncertainty surrounding the club this is some feat, especially as last night was the third successive League game in which they have escaped defeat after trailing.

There was no hint of the drama to come at kick-off time, there was not even a hint of a game. Upon arriving at Highbury it seemed that Arsene Wenger's confirmation as manager had brought the entire populace out to celebrate, thousands milled on Gillespie Road.

However, it soon emerged that they were there because they could not get in; the manager's office was not the only place at Highbury with a power vacuum - there was no power to operate the main stand turnstiles.

Pat Rice's debut as caretaker manager was eventually delayed by 27 minutes - still, having waited months for a manager what was a few more minutes for a match?

Even then Arsenal did not seem ready. Wednesday dominated and should have scored after 10 minutes when Dejan Stefanovic, unchallenged, put a header just over. Free headers at Arsenal? There must be a crisis.

Guy Whittingham twice threatened before, after 25 minutes, Ian Nolan slid a pass in to Booth and he carefully steered it past Seaman. Within three minutes Wayne Collins, from Blinker's chipped pass, should have made it 0-2.

Off went Ray Parlour, on came Patrick Vieira, signed in August for pounds 3.5m from Milan on Wenger's say-so. Paul Merson immediately shot wide but Wednesday went closer with David Hirst thumping a volley against the bar. It seemed to underline Wednesday's superiority, but Arsenal began to mix it and took control. They should have levelled on the eve of half-time but Collins somehow headed Martin Keown's header off the line.

Then Wednesday lost the classy centre-back, Stefanovic, with an injury. A dozen minutes later the match had gone too. After 58 minutes Collins lost possession to Hartson, who pulled the ball back for David Platt to score. Three minutes later Des Walker brought down Wright in the area. Wright converted the penalty and Walker, already booked for an earlier foul on Wright, went off.

"The decisions may have been a mistake," said David Pleat, the Wednesday manager. "Walker got the ball in both cases."

Though down to 10, Wednesday had to push forward and left gaps. Inevitably Wright exploited them, scoring after crosses from Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn respectively.

But this would not be Arsenal if there was not a sting. After the penalty Nigel Winterburn is alleged to have abused a disabled Wednesday supporter. The police took a statement from the fan and it is understood that the referee is reporting the incident to the Football Association.

Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Linighan, Keown, Bould; Dixon, Parlour (Vieira, 29), Platt, Merson, Winterburn; Wright, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Morrow, Shaw, Rose, Lukic (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic (Nicol, 49), Nolan; Whittingham (Trustfull, 69), Collins, Pembridge, Blinker (Oakes, 77); Hirst, Booth. Substitutes not used: Humphreys, Clarke (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

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