Hartson underlines Arsenal's superiority

Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
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The Independent Online


Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Arsenal eased into the quarter-finals of the Coca-Cola Cup last night with a repeat of their 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in the 1993 final of the competition. It was the second successive year Arsenal had knocked Wednesday out in the fourth round.

Arsenal dominated but it was Wednesday who scored first, through Marc Degryse after 17 minutes. Ian Wright equalised five minutes before the break then John Hartson secured Arsenal victory with a well-taken 65th minute goal.

Wednesday arrived with a forbidding record at Highbury having lost on eight of their last 10 visits. The last, by 4-2 just a week ago, extended Wednesday's 33-year run without a Highbury win to 21 games.

The opening stages suggested that barren period would continue as Arsenal, playing Dennis Bergkamp in a withdrawn role behind Wright and Hartson, bewildered the Wednesday defence with their movement.

Three times in as many minutes Arsenal nearly took the lead, beginning with a 14th-minute Lee Dixon cross which Hartson failed to connect properly with. Immediately afterwards a Bergkamp cross fell to David Platt whose volley brought a stunning save from Kevin Pressman. Then Tony Adams, showing unexpected trickery on the wing, pulled the ball back from the byline for Wright, but the striker shot over.

A goal seemed imminent - and so it proved, only Wednesday were the scorers. Chris Waddle's cross was flicked on by Guy Whittingham then pushed out by David Seaman. It fell to Degryse, who fiercely drove the ball back past Seaman.

Arsenal took a while to recover from the shock but, slowly, they recovered their poise and ascendancy. Wright shot wide and Pressman dealt easily with a weak Jensen cross before Wright backheeled the ball to Merson in the box. As the striker shaped to shoot, Julian Watts brought him down. The subsequent penalty brought Wright his 12th goal of the season and 250th of his career.

The second-half maintained the pattern of Arsenal possession interspersed with Wednesday counter-attacks. Bergkamp was constantly involved, though his team-mates did not always read his passes. Merson, too, was enjoying the evening, once winning a corner with a display of ball-juggling. But, for all their control, Arsenal struggled to create clear chances against an increasingly massed defence.

They should have scored on the hour but Wright's cross just floated over Hartson's head, then became caught between the feet of the surprised Platt. Bergkamp then shot over before, with 20 minutes to go, Hartson put Arsenal ahead. After controlling a long pass from Dixon, he turned Ian Nolan and skipped past Watts before shooting low inside the near post from 20 yards.

Wednesday were forced to venture forward but never showed the conviction or imagination necessary to unhinge Arsenal's experienced defence.

Arsenal (4-3-1-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Merson, Platt, Jensen; Bergkamp (Helder, 77); Hartson, Wright. Substitutes not used: Hillier, Dickov.

Sheffield Wednesday (3-5-2): Pressman; Watts, Walker, Atherton; Nolan, Waddle, Hyde, Degryse, Sinton; Bright (Hirst, 77), Whittingham. Substitutes not used: Poric, Woods (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).