Arsenal 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
Dennis Bergkamp showed just Arsenal will be missing for the next three games
with the quality strike that kept the Gunners on the road to the Double.
Highbury's Dutch master starts to pay the price this week for his moment of
madness and red card shame against West Ham.
But he signed off with his 19th and perhaps most important goal of the
campaign to date as he ensured Arsene Wenger's men did not lose the championship
momentum set in motion by Marc Overmars' winner at Manchester United a fortnight
Fittingly it was Overmars, vibrant, thrilling and simply far too good for an
outclassed Wednesday, who was the creator, delivering the perfect ball 10
minutes before the break.
As the ball dropped over Des Walker's shoulder, Bergkamp, who had stolen a
yard, clipped home a sidefoot volley that gave Kevin Pressman no chance at all.
Against a Wednesday that had not recorded a Highbury win since 1962 - few
would bet against them having to wait as long again to end that streak on the
evidence of this weak-willed performance - that was more than enough.
But with Overmars' pace leaving Earl Barrett wishing for a giant hole to
swallow him up, Wenger will feel his men wasted the perfect chance to cash in
and boost their goal difference.
And Wenger also looks set to lose Lee Dixon for Tuesday's trip to Bolton and
the FA Cup semi-final with Wolves next Sunday after the former England man
collapsed in agony with a knee problem.
That was the downside, but otherwise it was good news as Arsenal eased to
three of the 21 points Wenger feels will give them that first title since 1990.
The Old Trafford win meant Arsenal went into the game under genuine
championship-winning pressure for the first time in months, but with Wednesday
so woeful it was embarrassing, the only question was when the Gunners would go
Overmars, possibly thinking all his Christmases had come at once, scared them
witless, Barrett suffering horribly as he was put through the rack by the Dutch
Inside 10 minutes, the one-time England man was reduced to committing a brutal
scything foul, rightly earning him a booking, and after that he was almost too
terrified to get close.
The only thing Arsenal, with Stephen Hughes in for the injured Emmanuel Petit,
could not do it seemed, was get the ball in the back of the net, Walker working
overtime as Goce Sedloski suffered the sort of Premiership baptism he will have
Christopher Wreh, preferred to Nicolas Anelka, headed a Hughes corner against
the angle of post and bar and then when Overmars, freed by Hughes with Barrett
trailing in his wake, shot down the left, Bergkamp headed wide from 10 yards.
It was almost cruel at times, so total was the chasing that Wednesday were
One move saw Overmars leave Barrett and Sedloski sprawling on the turf, but
unable to pick out either Bergkamp or Wreh, while Bergkamp shot weakly after a
Tony Adams, back after missing England's trip to Switzerland, was loving it,
all the more so when he ended one Wednesday attack before galloping forward to
meet Nigel Winterburn's cross at the other end.
For all that domination, Arsenal had not scored, and could so easily have paid
the price in the 34th minute.
Paolo Di Canio, previously invisible, clipped forward and Mark Pembridge was
too quick for David Seaman, the England number one looking like a man who has
been out for 13 games.
But after what had gone before, the one man Wednesday did not want on the
receiving end of Pembridge's low cross was Barrett. The goal was gaping, but
Barrett fired straight at the sliding Winterburn.
And within a minute, Arsenal, aware that they had escaped, finally made their
Barrett was initially closest to Overmars when he picked up 40 yards out, but
decided to head for his own goal, allowing the winger time to pick out his
countryman Bergkamp with a floated pass.
Bergkamp's caressed volley ensured the pass was met with the finish it
deserved, Pressman helpless as the ball rolled home.
Walker just blocked Patrick Vieira and the red tide was just as unremitting at
the start of the second period.
Parlour, showing a full recovery from the hamstring injury that denied him a
possible England cap in midweek, strolled unchallenged down the right before
firing at Pressman.
Then Bergkamp, his touch so classy, so wonderful, saw a perfect chip turned
aside by the keeper.
One cloud on the horizon for Wenger was, of course, the knowledge that
Bergkamp will miss the next three games.
And when Dixon crumpled in a heap, clutching his right knee, his agonised
reaction and frustrated left-footed kick at Gary Lewin's physio bag told its own
Dixon was replaced by Remi Garde, Wreh by Anelka soon afterwards, but Arsenal
remained on top.
Only another splendid diving save by Pressman denied Overmars the goal he
deserved from 25 yards before one more desperate Walker clearance prevented
Vieira setting up Bergkamp.
Di Canio's 35-yarder briefly worried the home fans, if not Seaman. But one
goal is a narrow advantage, and while Wednesday were so far behind on points the
judges had thrown their cards away, they were still, just, on their feet.
Bergkamp crashed into the side-netting and Overmars was foiled by Pressman
again, as Arsenal looked for the second. On this day, one was all they would
Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon (Garde 52), Winterburn, Vieira, Adams,
Bergkamp, Overmars, Wreh (Anelka 57), Keown,
Parlour (Grimandi 74), Hughes.
Subs Not Used: Platt, Manninger.
Goals: Bergkamp 35.
Sheff Wed: Pressman, Atherton, Pembridge (Whittingham 83),
Walker, Carbone (Hyde 67), Booth, Di Canio, Stefanovic,
Hinchcliffe, Sedloski, Barrett.
Subs Not Used: Clarke, Thome, Magilton.
Booked: Barrett, Atherton.
Ref: S W Dunn (Bristol).