Arsenal 1 - 2 Manchester United

Arsenal

Lukic, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Adams (Hughes 45), Wright, Merson, Bergkamp, Keown, Parlour. Subs Not Used: Selley, Marshall, Harper, Shaw.

Wimbledon

Schmeichel, G. Neville, Irwin, Pallister, Cole, Beckham, Giggs, Poborsky (Butt 71), Keane, Johnsen, Solskjaer, Butt (McClair 86). Subs Not Used: P. Neville, Cruyff, Van Der Gouw.

Booked

Adams, Bould, Wright, Bergkamp, Keane, Butt.

Att

38,172

Ref

M J Bodenham (Cornwall).


fter Schmeichel had thwarted Wright, spreading that huge frame to disconcerting effect, United showed their cobra-like qualities, hitting back in vintage style. From the wreckage of a 19th-minute Arsenal attack, Gary Neville clipped play down the right, the ball seemingly heading towards a Highbury safe haven called Tony Adams.

Maybe it was the swirling wind, or simply bad judgment, but Adams allowed the ball to carry on and Cole, anticipating well, was off and running, racing towards the North Bank, his legs pumping like pistons. John Lukic sprinted out but was left clasping only the cold night air as Cole's pace and balance took him. The goal beckoned but the angle was tight. No matter. Cole, suddenly reviving memories of his unerring Newcastle days, swept the ball irresistibly home from right to left.

It was Cole's 28th goal in 76 United appearances. His outpouring of emotion, and probably a touch of relief, was echoed by another former Arsenal man, Brian Kidd, whose little jig caught the visitors' mood.

Arsenal searched for parity but found Keane increasingly formidable in midfield. Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn, Arsne Wenger's wing-backs, were struggling to make ground down the flanks. Bergkamp roamed around Wright and, though he did beat Gary Pallister with one elegant trick, otherwise found much of his space blocked by Keane, in magnificent form.

Wright began showing signs of life, twice testing Schmeichel with shots. Then Arsenal found some space on the right and suddenly Ray Parlour was speeding through before crossing. Wright, diving full length, narrowly failed to make contact. Neville did, the ball flying worryingly close to Schmeichel's goal.

Arsenal then revealed their darker side. So full of creative life under Wenger, they have retained a propensity for nasty lunges, such as the ones Adams, then Steve Bould, aimed at Solskjaer.

In between these assaults, the Norwegian showed why he was a targeted man. Another United counter-attack was accelerated by Karel Poborsky, the ball soon threaded through the centre to Cole. Revitalised, Cole simply played the ball accurately out to the left, where Solskjaer was arriving at speed. His finish was as emphatic as Cole's, the ball flashing low past Lukic.

Arsenal's troubles continued. Adams' ankle problem prevented him from re- appearing after the break, the arm-band transferring to Bould. Young Stephen Hughes arrived, with Arsenal changing to 4-4-2, but the best chances were still falling to the champions. A wonderful left-wing attack saw the ball passed from Keane to Solskjaer to Poborsky, who directed his header straight at Lukic.

Suddenly Arsenal began to stir. Hughes hit the bar and, though Wright turned in the rebound, his effort was ruled out for offside. Arsenal, though, were getting closer, their attacks showing more signs of precision and purpose. On 68 minutes, as three sides of Highbury roared their support, Arsenal scored a fine goal. Merson transferred play down the right to Parlour, whose rising centre to the near post was turned in powerfully by Bergkamp. Then came Wright's awful assault on Schmeichel, which triggered some nasty tit-for-tat challenges. Bergkamp was cautioned for fouling Neville and then Keane, otherwise faultless, for felling Parlour. Schmeichel, still limping, at least won his next duel with Wright, clawing over the Arsenal striker's header.

The bad feeling continued as the players filed from the field. Schmeichel signalled his anger at Wright, who reacted by going for United's goalkeeper until restrained by Gary Lewin, Arsenal's physio, and a policeman.

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Last Updated: Friday March 07, 1997 08:07:28 -0500

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