The combative nature that is driving Ian Wright on to the distinction of becoming Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer also works against him

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The look on Arsene Wenger's face told you more than he was prepared to say about Ian Wright's dismissal. It spoke clearly of exasperation.

Wenger claimed not to have seen an off-the-ball incident with Nikola Jerkan, but yes, he agreed, unnecessary involvement is foolish.

A problem for football coaches is knowing how far they can go safely when calling for commitment. In stoking up hotter and hotter fires in their players they run the risk of an explosion.

The principles Wenger is known to abide by, what we might regard as intellectual quality, makes him no less a pragmatist than any of his contemporaries. To succeed the team must play hard. Inevitably, this will lead to suspensions, but what Wenger does expect, and he spoke about it on Saturday, is a mature attitude. Unfortunately, in Wright's case it may be asking for the impossible.

The combative nature that is driving Wright on to the distinction of becoming Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer also works against him. "Ian is a terrific player and always seems psyched up in matches," Forest's assistant manager, Alan Hill, said. "But Jerkan said that Wright ran studs down his shin and if that's the case he deserved to be sent off."

What is Wenger going to do with Wright? What, in fact, is he going to do about the overall issue of discipline that is threatening to undermine Arsenal's challenge for the championship? Tony Adams and Steve Bould have been sent off this season, and both Adams and Patrick Vieira were suspended on Saturday.

Another question is when will Wright learn that there is no profit in feuding? Probably never. Sharp as a tack, he gave Arsenal the lead when Mark Crossley dropped a corner under pressure from Martin Keown, but then we saw the other side of him.

Body-checked for a second time by Jerkan, who was outstanding in Forest's defence, Wright went looking foolishly for retribution and was sent off. Jerkan may have made rather too much of the incident, but, with his reputation, what did Wright expect? "It was a hard enough game without having to play with 10 men,' Wenger said dolefully.

It was all the encouragement Forest needed. Level when Alf Inge Haland met a Dean Saunders cross in the 70th minute they went at Arsenal with enough spirit to suggest that Stuart Pearce has not taken on a lost cause. "We've only won a football match," Hill said (relieved to have been out on the field, away from the telephone, Pearce chose not to put in an appearance). "We need to win 11 more."

Apart from emphasising that there are no easy matches in the Premiership, what Forest's victory, only their second of the season, proved was how much a part luck plays in football.

More than anything else, I think, lack of it brought about Frank Clark's resignation. After leaving last week he telephoned all the players and sent a telegram. "We played this match for the gaffer," Pearce said.

Before the game, Pearce delivered a blunt message. "I know you all, know what you get up to," he said, "but as long as you perform it's all that matters. Don't mess me about."

Coming from a hard man, the captain turned caretaker manager, those words were not about to be taken lightly. If the difference is motivation then the appointment was perfect.

Pearce brought back Jerkan and Brian Roy, positioned himself as one of the three centre- backs and had Nigel Clough, on loan from Manchester City, among his substitutes. A different formation, too, with Dean Saunders employed as a wing-back.

Even when Wright put Arsenal ahead there was no sense of Forest's spirit flagging. More direct in the second half with Saunders using his pace to better advantage, they came right back at Wenger's team. Haland - "he has been our best player for weeks", Hill said - struck the winner late on and a new mood of optimism swept the City Ground.

Apart from anything else, Arsenal had missed an opportunity to go top of the League. "I have seen Forest a number of times recently," Wenger said, "and they missed a lot of chances. Today they had two and took them. Our problem was that we did not have a balance between defence and offence."

In the long run, it may be the balance between commitment and common sense that matters.

Goals: Wright (63) 0-1; Haland (67) 1-1; Haland (89) 2-1.

Nottingham Forest (3-5-2): Crossley; Jerkan (Lyttle, 85), Chettle, Pearce; Saunders, Haland, Cooper, Woan, Allen; Roy (Clough, 65), Campell. Substitutes not used: Gemmill, Phillips, Fettis (gk).

Arsenal (3-4-2-1): Lukic; Keown, Linighan, Bould; McGowan (Parlour, 69), Garde (Morrow, 78), Platt, Winterburn; Bergkamp (Hartson, 74), Merson; Wright. Substitutes not used: Marshall, Bartram (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley)

Bookings: Forest: Jerkan. Sent off: Arsenal: Wright.

Man of the match: Haland.

Attendance: 27,384.