Wimbledon 0 Arsenal 1
Debut-boy Christopher Wreh's goal kept the Premiership title race wide open as
Arsenal survived a ferocious Wimbledon bombardment in the second half to cut
Manchester United's lead to nine points.
And the little Liberian striker, making his first League start for the Gunners
since a £300,000 move from Monaco in the summer, staked a mighty claim to
continue as injured Ian Wright's front-line deputy in the big showdown at Old
Trafford on Saturday.
Wreh, the 22 year-old cousin of AC Milan superstar George Weah, finished in
style when Dutch winger Marc Overmars, racing away onto ex-Don Nigel
Winterburn's slide-rule pass, set him up after 20 minutes of first-half Arsenal
masterclass at Selhurst Park.
Wreh, whose only previous Gunners start was in the Coca-Cola Cup against
Birmingham in October, had seen a close-range header disallowed five minutes
earlier after Dennis Bergkamp rammed a superb right-foot drive against the
underside of the bar.
And after Ray Parlour's rocket shot was spectacularly turned over by Neil
Sullivan, continental aces Bergkamp, Overmars and Patrick Vieira all spurned
further chances to extend Arsenal's lead before the break.
But it was 29-year-old Austrian goalkeeper Alex Manninger whom Arsenal - who
have now been beaten only once in the last 18 games - had to thank for their
triumph in the second half.
He went full length to clutch a fizzing 18-yard drive by Wimbledon's
£1.6million new boy Andy Roberts, dived fearlessly at the feet of substitute
Marcus Gayle, who seemed certain to convert Kenny Cunningham's low cross, and
then, on the hour, somehow pushed Jason Euell's point-blank header over the
Dons boss Joe Kinnear pulled off skipper Vinnie Jones at half time, sent on
two more forward players in the second half and saw his team fight like tigers
to overcome Arsenal's classier style with fierce commitment and non-stop
But Arsene Wenger's Gunners showed they were up for the fight as well and in
lightning breakaways Bergkamp was just denied by a brilliant Chris Perry tackle
after Wreh pounced on a miskicked clearance by Sullivan to set up what looked a
certain second goal.
Emmanuel Petit, a tireless driving force in midfield, also forced a stunning
save by Sullivan, and Wreh, who was given a roar of approval by the travelling
Arsenal fans, when substituted by Luis Boa Morte six minutes from time, also set
up Parlour for a header which flashed just over.
The win was only Arsenal's fourth away from home in the League this season and
came after the match kicked off 30 minutes late due to a bomb scare.
But at least it finished this time - unlike the original clash in December
which was abandoned after 47 minutes through a floodlights failure.
And after United could take only a point at West Ham, the Gunners, still with
three games in hand, know their title chance is still shining bright.
Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Jones (Gayle 46), Blackwell,
Thatcher (Kimble 55), Roberts, Perry, Hughes, Ardley,
Euell (Cort 80), Leaburn.
Subs Not Used: Heald, Francis.
Arsenal: Manninger, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Adams, Bergkamp,
Overmars (Hughes 77), Wreh (Boa Morte 86), Keown,
Parlour (Garde 72), Petit.
Subs Not Used: Anelka, Lukic.
Goals: Wreh 21.
Ref: D J Gallagher (Banbury).