Wimbledon silence whispering gallery

Football: Arsenal 1 Wimbledon 3
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The Independent Online

Arsenal 1 Wimbledon 3

A suspicion held here for some time is that a great number of people who turn out for football today are simply following a fashion. How else to explain the puzzlement that descended upon Highbury as Arsenal fell to their first home defeat of the season? Barely a murmur of dissent. Only an occasional blast of criticism.

Time was when supporters would have voiced their frustration, turned on players who were letting them down, called for the manager to do something drastic. Thinking back to another time and, even allowing for Arsenal's position in the Premiership, the tolerance was remarkable.

Maybe it is the comfort of a seat instead of frozen terraces, smart surroundings and bags full of goodies from the club shop, but it could be imagined that the only question being asked was: "Why are we losing?"

Significantly, you may think, question time in Arsenal's dressing-room lasted for more than an hour. Doubtless for purposes of morale, when Bruch Rioch emerged, he defused quickly a notion of raised voices and that his players had been left with their ears burning. "We had a meaningful discussion," he said. "No, I won't go into what was said. That's between me and the players."

This is an old trick managers employ when called upon to express their disgruntlement. They may have turned the air blue, thrown cups and suggested that one or two heroes should think seriously about alternative employment, but it is not for public consumption.

The absence of Tony Adams, who withdrew shortly before the match, and Steve Bould helped to explain Arsenal's shortcomings, but the deeper issue for Rioch was that Wimbledon outplayed them generally.

This was the dandy bit for anyone who has noted Wimbledon's transformation from an ugly team to a creditably thoughtful one. They still use the long ball, but with more discretion. "It isn't any use going on about that because we're stuck with the way people have come to think of us," Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, said.

Wimbledon have brought a lot upon themselves, however, Kinnear's paranoia is sometimes understandable. "People drooled when Glenn Hoddle hit 40- yard passes, but if we send the ball long it's just route one," he added wearily.

Football isn't one thing or the other, neither long nor short, but a game of options. "Look for the far man first," one of the greatest players in history, Ferenc Puskas, was fond of saying.

There was something of this when Ian Wright gave Arsenal the lead after 28 minutes; Nigel Winterburn hit a longish ball to Dennis Bergkamp, who connected instantly with Wright's surge into space.

That it did not have a dampening effect on Wimbledon's spirit was due in no small measure to the attitude adopted by Vinnie Jones, who despite yet another brush with authority was given the captain's armband.

Chances are that Jones cannot tell exactly why he is drawn into commotion, but all it does is devalue the usefulness that reduced David Platt to anonymity in midfield. This is not a defence of loutishness, it is a plea entered in the hope that Jones will accept a chance to grow up.

A Jones free-kick led to Robbie Earle heading Wimbledon level and, when Dean Holdsworth benefited from a similar opportunity, Arsenal were going nowhere.

Wimbledon's third confirmed Earle as a considerable midfielder, cleverly lobbing David Seaman after Holdsworth headed on Chris Perry's long pass. "You won't see many better goals," Kinnear said. "But then it was route one," he shrugged, the paranoia surfacing again.

As for Arsenal, they were by then involved in that meaningful discussion.

Goals: Wright (27) 1-0; Earle (38) 1-1; Holdsworth (50) 1-2; Earle (67) 1-3.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Keown, Winterburn; Clarke (Parlour, 63), Jensen (Dickov, 56), Platt, Merson; Bergkamp; Wright. Substitute not used: Marshall.

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Segers; Cunningham, Reeves, Perry, Kimble; Leonhardsen, Jones, Earle; Harford (Gayle, 87), Holdsworth, Ekoku (Goodman, 87). Substitute not used: Pearce.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Arsenal: Jensen, Wright, Winterburn. Wimbledon: Reeves, Ekoku, Harford.

Man of the match: Earle. Attendance: 37,640.