Arsenal 2 - 0 Nottingham Forest
Even the news that Manchester United had lost at Sunderland could not convince manager Arsene Wenger that the Gunners are back in the title race: "It helps but United are still in the best position and we need to win a few more matches before we can make up for those home defeats against Manchester United and Wimbledon", he said. But, at least he saw his team avoid what Wenger described as "the dreadful prospect of yet another home defeat".
Although Forest failed to get one shot on target throughout the whole match there was still the smell of fear coming from Arsenal's players until they finally made the game safe thanks to another penalty decision by controversial ref Mike Reed.
"You could feel the tension in the opening half, but hopefully it's over now and we can put together the three or four victories that could make life difficult for United. As United's result at Sunderland proved, everyone is capable of beating everyone else in the Premiership and it is difficult to keep up the consistency needed over even three days, as United have shown this week.", added Wenger.
While the suspended Wright sat in the commentary box, it seemed as though Arsenal were going to have another one of those Highbury horror days as their obvious first-half superiority went unrewarded.
Bergkamp and Platt saw great shots half-saved by Crossley then cleared by defenders while Merson, moving up front to replace Wright, missed the sort of chance the missing striker would have eaten up, failing to beat the keeper from only six yeards. But between them, Arsenal's two best players, Vieira and Bergkamp, put an end to the panic soon after half-time.
For once, the strange rule that forces players to leave the field after treatment until play restarts came to Arsenal's aid when Vieira slipped back unnoticed by Forest. Marshall saw him in acres of space and Vieira used it to put a perfect ball through to Bergkamp who left his marker and shot across the keeper's body into the far corner.
Forest, whose new supremo Dave Bassett admits they face a tough task to avoid relegation, should have been seen off when Bergkamp put the young Hughes clear. But although the ball was on his favoured left foot, he fluffed the finish. Hughes knew it could be costly which is why he was happier than most when referee Reed - villain of the Chelsea Cup win over Leicester - again courted controversy with a penalty decision against Forest.
This time Forest's Haaland was adjudged to have deliberately handled - although he had thought the whistle had gone for a free kick against Bergkamp. It is difficult to know what else Reed could have done in this situation, but he does seem to love the limelight. As Haalard held his head in disbelief, Bergkamp kept his to tuck away his second goal. It climaxed a fine, all-round display by the Dutchman, but Vieira's midfield dominance and willingness to help in defence - earned him a standing ovation from the fans.
There should have been another goal for Arsenal when Merson, not looking at his best, again failed to beat Crossley when put clear. The keeper got a hand to the ball to force a corner, or so Arsenal thought until Reed decided it was a goal kick.
So, on a day when he booked eight more players, Reed finished being jeered off by both sets of fans.
Last Updated: Saturday March 22, 1997 19:55:53 -0500
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