Ten men on the Wright side

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Not quite the same old song; the melody has been improved. Arsenal leapfrogged Newcastle United to the top of the Premiership at St James' Park yesterday with a remarkable display not only of their legendary resilience but also of poised passing not always associated with them in recent years.

All this with 10 men for the majority of a fierce match after the sending- off of their captain Tony Adams for a professional foul on Alan Shearer. In addition, there were eight yellow cards; three home, five away.

Shearer equalised Lee Dixon's opener for Arsenal with his 11th goal of the season, thus scoring for a seventh match in succession - surprisingly, for the first time in his career - only to be eclipsed by a poached goal by the ever effervescent Ian Wright, the Premiership leading scorer's 19th of the season. "We all agree, Wright is better than Shearer," sang the Arsenal following.

Adams departed after balking Shearer as the pair chased a through ball, Arsenal left complaining that Faustino Asprilla was offside. It was not a violent offence but the referee, Graham Barber, decided that Adams was the last defender and had denied a goal-scoring opportunity.

Thus was the boot on the other foot for Newcastle, who had clung on for a 1-1 draw at Chelsea last week after having David Batty sent off. Their attacks frequently foundered on the absorbent heads of Steve Bould and Patrick Vieira, however, Arsenal being probably the best-equipped side in England to withstand pressure. They also have the running and finishing of Wright as an outstanding outlet.

"I picked a side to be inventive and I didn't see any out there," said the angry Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan. "It was a poor performance, poor throughout. Not good enough for this club. It wouldn't take much more for me to change things."

Newcastle certainly received adequate warning early on. Arsenal looked menacing on the break and put together two neat interchanges between Paul Merson, John Hartson and Wright, both ending with shots by Merson - one tipped over by Pavel Srnicek, the other clutched low by the goalkeeper - before taking the lead.

The home side were not alive enough to a free-kick played forward by David Platt to Hartson, who laid it wide to Wright on the left. From his cross, Lee Dixon steamed in at the far post to nod home a powerful header. His marker, David Ginola, with whom he continued his physical feud of the past two years, appeared to be in his "apres vous" mood.

Fortunately for Newcastle, at the other end Ginola was altogether less insouciant and 10 minutes later he conjured an equaliser, his cross from the left looping off a defender and dropping conveniently for Shearer to head home from five yards.

Now the match was afire and within minutes, amid a flurry of yellow cards, came the Adams dismissal. "I was a little bit pessimistic for 10 minutes," said the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who pondered some eight minutes before bringing on another defender, Andy Linighan, for Hartson.

Wenger was lifted, however, by his team's attitude at half-time. "They did not accept the situation. They were ready to fight," he said later. Perhaps the paucity of Newcastle's attacking ideas had given them heart. Early on, Darren Peacock glanced a header wide, and from the free-kick given for the Adams offence John Lukic was grateful to grab Shearer's deflected shot. Otherwise, they were alarmed only by a shot from Peter Beardsley which flew just wide of a post.

It got little better after the interval, at which point Keegan replaced Asprilla with Paul Kitson to little effect. Instead, Arsenal frustrated Newcastle with some neat football and the feeling grew that if the willing Wright could be slipped free, a pinched three points could be theirs.

Duly it came to pass. Nigel Winterburn slipped the ball to Wright, who brought Merson into play. He ran on and shot from 20 yards, though weakly, and the ball broke to Wright who turned Peacock before clipping the ball clinically past Srnicek.

Around it, Newcastle were restricted mostly to long-range shots that Lukic dealt with competently enough. One from Ginola curled just wide, while a header by Shearer was straight at the goalkeeper. The league defeat that had been coming during a November that has seen them without a win in five matches had materialised.