Wretched return for Graham

Arsenal give their old hero a painful homecoming while the champions suffer more indignity at Southampton
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The Independent Online
Arsenal 3

Dixon 1, Bergkamp 5, Wright 56

Leeds United 0

Attendance: 38,076

He would have wanted to win here more than anywhere else, but in the end George Graham's concerns went rather deeper than that yesterday when he returned to Highbury for the first time since he was sacked by Arsenal 20 months ago and saw his Leeds team go down to their fifth defeat in six Premiership matches under his charge.

Utterly comprehensive it was too. The loss of two goals in the first seven minutes forced Leeds so far on to the back foot that they spent most of the rest of the match swaying helplessly while Arsenal ran rings around them. That they only conceded one more goal, early in the second half, did something for their self-respect, and they could point to a reasonable spell late on, but the sort of success Graham achieved at Highbury is still something he can only dream about at Elland Road.

It was an afternoon on which to feel slightly sorry for Arsene Wenger. Popular predecessors are always trying for a new manager, but such were the circumstances surrounding Graham's return that the Frenchman could have been forgiven for thinking that this might have been a weekend better spent on a scouting mission.

As kick-off approached, a mass of photographers gathered on the edge of the pitch near the tunnel. When Graham appeared, he made no acknowledgment of the cheering crowd and seemed embarrassed by the attention as he moved into the away dug-out. Other than to raise them in an enough-is-enough gesture to the cameras, he kept his hands in his suit pockets. No doubt the silence for Matthew Harding that was due to follow was also on his mind, but all in all it was a performance of the most dignified reticence.

Almost inevitably, an offensive minority in the crowd disfigured the few moments intended to honour the memory of the late Chelsea vice-chairman, and one has to wonder whether this Premiership-decreed gesture was asking too much of certain people.

Graham would appreciate the importance of Arsenal getting three points, Wenger had written in his programme notes. That seemed an odd way of putting it, but within 55 seconds the message was rammed home with a goal that was a mixture of the team Graham built and the one that started to take shape after his departure.

The creator was a new boy in the Frenchman Patrick Vieira, who made an inspired run from deep in his own half that took him to the edge of the opposition penalty area and left two Leeds men floundering in his wake. As Vieira closed in, he might have been expected to shoot. Instead he passed it square to the overlapping Lee Dixon, and with Nigel Martyn having gone out to meet the first phase of danger, the stalwart right-back lashed the ball into the empty net.

What limited confidence Leeds had was further damaged with a second goal only six minutes later. This was down to a defensive blunder and the anticipation of Dennis Bergkamp, back after missing five games through injury. There seemed little threat as Lucas Radebe and Paul Beesley stood off in expectation that Martyn would come to collect a ball down the Arsenal right. Martyn was coming, but Bergkamp was arriving rather quicker, seizing on the ball and hitting the net from the corner of the penalty area.

The match was over almost before it had begun. With the long-legged Vieira dominating midfield and Arsenal getting to the ball first in all other parts, Leeds were made to look a shambles. Bergkamp should have scored again when he miscued a volley from David Platt's header after Ian Wright had supplied a fine cross from the right. Dixon was developing a taste for getting forward and nearly capitalised on a marvellous pass inside the full-back by Paul Merson. And as Leeds' frustration grew, so their names started going into the referee's book - four alone in the first half.

A single dash forward by Lee Sharpe was just about all Leeds had to show for their efforts until the first minute of the second half when Brian Deane, on as a half-time substitute, made an immediate impact with a cross from the right and Sharpe sent a header just wide of David Seaman's left- hand post. That at least gave Leeds some hope.

That was dashed 10 minutes later when Arsenal made it 3-0 through the man who arguably did more than anyone to put Graham's Arsenal on the map. It had to happen really. Bergkamp went after a pass from Nigel Winterburn that no Leeds player responded to, pulled the ball back from the byline, and there was Wright on the edge of the six-yard box to do the rest.

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