Gascoigne steals the Merson show

Trevor Haylett watches a glittering cast pay tribute to an Arsenal stalwart
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The Independent Online
Leading players from current and past eras paraded at Highbury last night to remind Paul Merson of what he almost gave away. The presence of Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and the rest at his testimonial was a sign of the admiration the game has for Merson's recovery from the depths of despair, after all his personal problems.

The attendance of 31,626, which will earn Merson almost pounds 400,000, showed the affection the Arsenal supporters have for a man who has been one of their own since the age of 14. They were treated to a glorious array of skills, including a four-goal haul from Gascoigne in a red and white shirt, as Arsenal beat an International XI 8-5.

While much of the attention was focused on Merson and all the other luminaries, eyes were also directed towards Tony Adams, who had not pulled on an Arsenal shirt since a knee operation in January. The injury had threatened to keep him out of next month's European Championship, but Adams was bursting to demonstrate his recovery and the game was only a few minutes old when he hoisted a high ball from deep which sailed safely into the arms of Ludek Miklosko. Normal service for the Arsenal colossus had resumed and he went on to complete the 90 minutes unscathed.

Adams would also have been seeking to impress the next England manager. Hoddle, the champagne touch intact and seizing the stage like an ambitious teenager, pinged passes to all corners of the field.

The occasion began as the script demanded with a Merson goal scored on 15 minutes. Gascoigne soon responded with a piece of sorcery, shooting home via a post. Four minutes before the interval the Rangers player scored again, fooling Ruud Gullit with a sidestep and Miklosko with a shimmy.

The Gunners' Double-winning side of 1971 took a half-time salute, with the biggest cheer reserved for George Graham on his first return to Highbury since last year's sacking.

Arsenal (3-5-2) Seaman (Harper, 61); Adams, Hoddle (Marshall, 61), Linighan (Bould, 61); Dixon (Rose, 55), Gascoigne, Bergkamp (Parlour, 61), Platt (Shaw, 55), Winterburn (Helder, 55); Merson, Wright (Hartson, 55).

International XI (3-5-2): Miklosko; O'Leary (McGoldrick, 55), Gullit, Bilic; Wilkins, Kanchelskis, Waddle, Jess, Rix (Morrow, 55); Nicholas, Le Tissier.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Kevin Keegan scored a penalty as his Newcastle team were beaten 6-5 by a Nottingham Forest XI in Stuart Pearce's testimonial at the City Ground, watched by a crowd of 23,818.

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