THE STRIP has changed - for the better - but Arsenal remain a tease when it comes to eking out results. One-nil to the Arsenal? That was exaggerating it a bit.
In fact, it was 0-0 to Arsenal. After a goalless 90 minutes, they had to come through another of the penalty shoot-out abominations, beating a weak Atletico Madrid 3-2, thanks to three excellent saves from David Seaman, to reach the final of the Makita Tournament they are hosting this weekend.
In today's final they play Napoli, who beat the holders, Chelsea, 2-0 in an ill-tempered match that saw the Italians' new signing from Marseille, the promising young Frenchman, Alain Boghossian, sent off.
For a while it looked as if it might be their customary 1-0 in Arsenal's shoot-out as Lee Dixon scored and Seaman saved from De La Sagra, Kosecki and Esteban. David Hillier and Arsenal's new signing for pounds 1.8m from Benfica, the Swede Stefan Schwarz, also missed. Manolo and Benitez's goals made a competition of it but Paul Merson and then, fittingly, Ian Wright converted to end a scrappy contest. Excitement and the mood of the World Cup is clearly to be found elsewhere in north London, at this time of year at least.
After years of betrayal, the new, simplified Arsenal kit they displayed recalls their heritage, the hooped socks adding a touch of class. In their play, however, they lacked just that, apart from Wright. Their only other figure capable of ingenuity, Merson, looks as forlorn as he had at the end of last season. Kevin Campbell, meanwhile, again indulged by George Graham at the start of the season, had little in common with Wright apart from a shaven head.
Atletico Madrid had come from a match the previous day in Spain against Aston Villa and rested their World Cup players: Jose Luis Caminero, Argentina's Diego Simeone and Mexico's Luis Garcia. Only when Manolo came on in the second half was Seaman troubled, twice saving well from the Spanish international striker.
At least there was encouragement for them in the competent Schwarz, who fits fully the Graham cut-out-and-keep midfield player, embodying neatness and industry. He provided, however, only occasional creativity, and neither does he look likely to take any of the scoring burden from Wright.
The first two minutes saw Schwarz's game exemplified. From Lee Dixon's long throw, Tony Adams headed on to Schwarz, who missed his kick in front of goal. Moments later, though, Schwarz was back in defence with a saving tackle that pleased the customers.
But it was Wright who was at the centre of everything of value that Arsenal assembled in attack. It was he who sent Nigel Winterburn clear on the left, only for the full-back's low drive across the goal to rebound off the far post. It would have been appropriate had Wright won the game nine minutes from the end of regulation play after being put through by Merson, instead of allowing Diego to save.
The Arsenal defence looked as niggardly as it had during the winning of last season's European Cup-winners' Cup, the first lesson of the afternoon for Chelsea. The second came from Napoli, who provided expertly mean-spirited opposition. Boghossian laid on a tap-in goal for the Colombian international, Freddy Rincon, after only nine minutes, before being sent off after 27 for slapping Dennis Wise, complaining as he left that the Chelsea captain had back-headed his face.
Thereafter, amid the kicks at Wise and two bouts of players from each side squaring up, Chelsea created chances they could not take in the absence of the injured Mark Stein. Eddie Newton chipped just over, as did the pounds 2.3m signing Paul Furlong, a potentially lively leader of the line. Giuseppe Taglialatela also saved with feet from Gavin Peacock.
Finally, Massimo Agostini drove home four minutes from time and Chelsea looked less like the bright orange, more like the grey, in their own new fetching little outfit.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; McGoldrick (Smith, 75), Jensen (Hillier, 75), Schwarz, Merson; Wright, Campbell.
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Diego; Esteban, Lopez, Ferreira, Alejandro; Ruano (Manolo, h-t), Alfaro (Solazabal, h-t), De La Sagra, Valle; Enrique (Kosecki, h-t), Benitez.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Chelsea (4-5-1): Kharin; Clarke, Kjeldbjerg, Johnsen, Myers; Newton, Peacock, Spackman, Wise, Barnard (Hoddle, 60); Furlong.
Napoli (4-4-2): Taglialatela; Matrecano, Cannavaro, Cruz (Grossi, 79), Policano; Bordin, Boghassian, Pecchia, Rincon (Pari, 55); Agostini, Carbone (Buso, 64).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).
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