Saturday, April 22, 2006

Spurs Make a point at Highbury

Arsenal 1 Spurs 1

The game lived up to it's pre-match hype and had everything - goals, exciting football, chances, tension and controversy. Spurs played exciting flowing football and dominated play for considerable spells in which they created scoring opportunities but having taken a second half lead, Arsenal equalised with eight minutes left and with Edgar Davids dismissed for a second yellow card, two minutes later, they were left to hold on for a point.

Injuries dictated Jol's team selection - Gardner returned in place of Davenport and Tainio replaced Jenas who was injured in a freak training ground accident on the eve of the game. Tainio played in central midfield alongside Carrick with Davids on the left. Mido had not recovered from injury so was not part of the squad, where Barnard was the striking option.

In a packed, vibrant Highbury, the game started briskly with Arsenal chosing to rest Henry. Spurs took a few minutes to settle but picked up the pace and gave Arsenal considerable cause for concern especially when Aaron Lennon had the ball. Three first half chances so nearly brought Spurs the lead. Defoe was put through by Lennon but with Davids free to his left, he shot weakly. Then he almost made amends when he controlled Carrick's lofted pass over the defence but he smashed the ball straight at the goalkeeper who saved bravely. The best chance came on the stroke of half-time when Michael Carrick ran with the ball into the penalty area, past defenders and round the goalkeeper, only to fire into the side netting. It would have been a fitting goal to round off a great first half performance from Carrick and the team.

The second half started in similar fashion with Spurs having much the better of the game but as Arsenal prepared to bring on Henry after an hour, van Persie broke through and Robinson dived bravely as he shot just wide.

Then after 65 minutes - the controversy. Two Arsenal defenders collided as they tried to dispossess Carrick, he played the ball to Tainio who put Davids through on the left. Edgar went on and crossed for Robbie Keane to score a thoroughly deserved goal. Arsenal were furious, they thought that Spurs should have played the ball out as two players were down but the referee who was close by was satisfied and allowed to play to carry on.

Wenger was most perplexed and angry on the touchline and the two managers stood toe to toe as Wenger's anger boiled over.

Spurs continued to be in control with everyone being totally committed but with Henry on the pitch there was always the anxiety that he would produce something special.

Into the final ten minutes and Spurs were now coming under increasing pressure, Danny Murphy had replaced the tiring Lennon and Robinson had to make a vital save to keep Spurs alive. Then with eight minutes left, Stalteri was out-muscled, perhaps fouled, on the right and the ball in found Henry who equalised.

Two minutes later Davids was sent off for a second yellow card and Spurs had to resort to all out defending to hold their point. Robinson played his part, punching and clearing bravely but with a man short there was no opportunity to attack in search of a winning goal.

Spurs held on, a point ensures UEFA football next season and keeps the Champions League qualification question within Spurs' control. Two wins in the final two games against Bolton and at West Ham will ensure Spurs finish fourth.

All the players deserve credit for their fine play and for the way they dominated a team of Arsenal's experience - they played the better football and created the best chances.

Robinson was outstanding in goal - he was commanding and confident in everything that he did.

The back four were tight and covered well and were rarely stretched. Dawson and Gardner were strong and comfortable throughout while the two fullbacks did all that was required and Lee's crossing has improved when attacking.

In the midfield Carrick was excellent, he controlled the game and pushed forward with good effect and could so easily have been on the scoresheet. Tainio played very well supporting the forwards and covering in defence - he had a very good game. Davids worked hard and used all his big match experience and was unfortunate to be sent off as the Arsenal players were targeting him throughout and especially after his involvement in the goal. Lennon was again an inspiration for the first hour and it is so exciting to see him taking on his man and beating him with ease.

Keane worked very hard, the responsibility of captain sits lightly on his shoulders and he took his goal well. Defoe tried hard but had little joy, especially when left alone at the front for the closing minutes.

At the end Wenger went off down the tunnel without shaking hands with Martin Jol but the players all took the deserved plaudits from the spectators.

So the season continues with everything to play for. Spurs can achieve fourth place with two more wins but may lose out Champions League qualification, if Arsenal win the competition. However, today's result is only worthwhile if the next games produce similar performances and the required points.

An excellent performance, we would have taken a point at the start and that's what we'll have to be satisfied with but for a few minutes it looked as if the impossible dream was going to become a reality. The players would have become Tottenham Hotspur 'legends'.


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