Yorke's turning point for Villa
Arsenal 2 Wright 13, Merson 73 Aston Villa 2 Milosevic 68, Yorke 74 Attendance: 38,130
Sunday 29 December 1996
It was an unexpected turn-about after Villa's tentative, unambitious performance in the first half, which Arsenal dominated but which had yielded only Ian Wright's 22nd goal of the season. After the interval crab-like Villa found their claws. Savo Milosevic equalised and within a minute of Paul Merson restoring Arsenal's lead, Yorke struck to force the draw.
It was in keeping with the recent history of the two clubs, but the result barely enhanced either team's Premiership title pretensions. After their third draw in four matches, the other yielding a defeat, Arsenal's challenge is at a crossroads. Villa, meanwhile, need to match their recent five- game winning sequence.
The consolation for them was that, in the end at least, they responded vigorously to the defeat by Chelsea on Boxing Day which ended that run and, for the first time this season, gleaned reward after trailing.
That they did so, however, was largely due to Arsenal's profligacy after Wright's splendid early goal. Patrick Vieira, returning after suspension to good early effect, won the ball in midfield and slipped it forward to Dennis Bergkamp, also a livewire at this point. The Dutchman timed his pass perfectly through to Wright, who ran on to beat Mark Bosnich with a fierce, low right-footed cross shot.
It was a reward for crisp, ground-based direct football in contrast to that being offered by Villa. They passed the ball neatly enough but too often squarely or backwards, with scarcely any player willing to risk the decisive pass. They were fortunate to reach the break only a goal adrift, with Riccardo Scimeca having to clear off the line after Wright had rounded Bosnich and Bould heading just over the bar after the goalkeeper had kept out Bergkamp's shot.
The Villa manager Brian Little admitted: "If we had been three or four down it wouldn't have been out of context with the game. We needed half- time to talk through things. We were too static, too predictable. We wanted to raise the tempo and pass with a purpose."
Suddenly Yorke was buzzing as a more determined Villa established a grip in midfield. Ian Taylor almost clipped home over John Lukic from Yorke's low cross - their first chance, after 50 minutes - but Bould cleared as the ball rolled goalwards. They ran the risk of being caught on the break, as Wright showed when he was just wide from Merson's long ball, but also finally looked like scoring.
A goal duly came while Arsenal were making an ill-timed substitution. As they prepared to defend a throw-in, on came Steve Morrow for Remi Garde and they still appeared disorganised as Fernando Nelson's cross came in. Mark Draper headed it back across goal and at the far post Milosevic, declared fit to play after a virus only two hours before kick-off, was free to steer home.
Stung, Arsenal responded with another excellent goal, Merson accepting Morrow's pass infield, dancing past Steve Staunton and driving home from 20 yards. It lasted only a minute, however, Milosevic sending Yorke clear to clip over Lukic.
Bergkamp had a late chance in a typically rousing Highbury finale, sidefooting just wide after a long run, but one sensed that Arsenal, their ageing legs failing them in this hectic phase of the season, had missed the moment.
We will find out more about both teams this new year week, with Wright beginning a three-match suspension - "I don't love the FA now," said the T-shirt he revealed after scoring yesterday - and Villa going to Old Trafford on Wednesday.
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