Sheffield Wednesday 2 Arsenal 0
The band beat out a victory roll and the fans roared their approval as Ron
Atkinson gave his impression of a soccer saviour.
Big Ron waved a flamboyant arm to the crowd after a brave and battling victory
which gets his second Hillsborough reign off to a flying start.
Andy Booth and Guy Whittingham scored the vital goals but this triumph was
fashioned in the minds of players who were desperate to impress the new boss.
Atkinson is a master at lifting players in the short term with a champagne
fizz and a crucial infusion of adrenaline.
And it was not surprising that the side which had destroyed Bolton 5-0 just
two weeks ago within days of David Pleat's dismissal were brimful of passion and
Atkinson left Hillsborough six years ago for Aston Villa under a cloud. The
fans then chanted "Judas" but today they wore badges and posters proclaiming
Big Ron's Barmy Army.
And Atkinson's new soldiers did not let him down.
They fought for every ball, battled for every pass and wore down an Arsenal
side which desperately missed the guile of Dennis Bergkamp and the midfield
artistry of Emanuel Petit.
This match was never going to be about art and craft and the first half
especially was a tough and bruising affair with tackles flying in from all
directions and little thoughtful football.
It was no surprise when full-back Ian Nolan went into the referee's notebook
for a clumsy challenge on flying Dutch winger Mark Overmars as early as the 14th
He was quickly followed by fellow defender Peter Atherton as the Wednesday
defence, which struggled to contain Arsenal's superior pace up front.
Chances were few and far between with neither keeper seriously troubled until
the 38th minute, when Wednesday's Kevin Pressman produced a fingertip save from
a powerful Michael Hughes header just minutes after the Arsenal man had replaced
the injured Ray Palmer.
The opening goal came somewhat against the run of play and relied on a
defensive blunder by Arsenal's French defender Gilles Grimandi.
There looked to be no danger until Grimandi inexplicably got himself into a
tangle and his wayward attempt at a backpass was latched onto swiftly by Booth.
Booth, full of verve and confidence following his hat-trick in the 5-0
destruction of Bolton, stepped forward and planted a 20-yard left foot shot
under the body of Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman.
The Wednesday trumpets blew, the 34,373 crowd joined the beat and Big Ron's
reign was well and truly underway.
It was no more than Wednesday's superior ambition deserved.
Arsenal's problems worsened immediately after the restart when Grimandi was
injured in a tackle with Rudi and had to be replaced by Scott Marshall.
But Arsenal just could not find the cohesion necessary to break down a
Wednesday defence which had improved immeasurably since early season beatings by
Manchester United and Blackburn.
The Gunners were lucky to escape when a superb ball into the penalty area by
Mark Pembridge threw their defence into panic and Rudi and Paulo Di Canio should
have done better with rasping shots.
Indeed the Gunners looked a shadow of the team which had surged to second
place in the Premiership and England striker Ian Wright, who had injured an
ankle in training with England last week, was largely anonymous.
Still they managed to keep the Wednesday faithful on the edge of their seats
as Christopher Wreh, who replaced Alberto Mendez, in the 53rd minute, flashed a
shot past the post when it looked easier to equalise.
Two long range drives from the tireless David Platt also flashed narrowly wide
but then came the second goal which gave Wednesday a measure of comfort.
With Arsenal pressing forward in search of the equaliser the ball broke clear
to Benito Carbone, who had replaced fellow Italian Di Canio in the 78th minute,
and his vision picked out Guy Whittingham steaming into the penalty area.
Whittingham, confident and sure-footed, tripped the ball beyond Seaman and
with just four minutes to go the victory belonged to Wednesday.
It sparked celebrations in the stands and Wednesday's players hugged and
kissed as Atkinson punched his fist in a rare show of delight on the touchline.
It was no more than Wednesday's battling performance deserved and Arsene
Wenger, in contrast, must be wishing for the return of his injured stars.
Adams was booked for a foul on Di Canio and Platt for a rugby tackle on the
same player late into the second half.
But, in truth, this was a day when Atkinson returned and Wednesday got back on
the right track.
Sheff Wed: Pressman, Atherton, Nolan, Pembridge, Newsome, Walker,
Whittingham, Booth, Di Canio (Carbone 79), Magilton (Hyde 84),
Subs Not Used: Clarke, Blondeau, Humphreys.
Booked: Nolan, Atherton.
Goals: Booth 42, Whittingham 86.
Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, Platt, Wright,
Overmars, Keown, Parlour (Hughes 38), Grimandi (Marshall 51),
Mendez (Wreh 54).
Subs Not Used: Manninger, Upson.
Booked: Grimandi, Adams, Platt.
Ref: K W Burge (Tonypandy).