By Richard Clarke
Arsenal salvaged their pride and their unbeaten record at Emirates Stadium with a barnstorming two-goal comeback against Portsmouth on Saturday.
Having bossed the first half-hour, Arsène Wenger's side somehow found themselves trailing by 2-0 a couple of minutes after half-time. Noe Pamarot nodded home from close range on the whistle and Matthew Taylor floated home a fine second immediately following the restart.
In response, the Arsenal manager threw on Emmanuel Adebayor straight away. The 21-year-old striker was both urgent and immaculate during his 35 minutes on the pitch.
He thumped home Theo Walcott's delicious low cross in the 57th minute and, two minutes later, played a major part as Gilberto screwed home the equaliser from close range.
With the momentum behind them, Arsenal threw everything but Emirates' newly-installed kitchen sink at Portsmouth in search of the winner. Robin van Persie (twice), Alex Hleb, Gilberto and Walcott all spurned excellent opportunities.
But, in the end, they had to settle for a point.
Arsenal have just started a treadmill of weekend and midweek games so it was no surprise to see Wenger rotate his side once more.
From the 1-0 win at Wigan on Wednesday, Julio Baptista, Walcott, Adebayor, Mathieu Flamini all dropped out. The incoming players were: Hleb, Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and, for his first Premiership start for Arsenal since January 10, 2004, Jeremie Aliadiere.
Arsenal were coming into this game on the back of three successive away games. They had done well at Porto, Chelsea and Wigan so it was no surprise to see them start with confidence this afternoon.
In the second minute Hleb strode forward and tucked the ball behind him for Emmanuel Eboue. The right back's lofted cross picked out Van Persie on the edge of the six-yard box. The Dutchman's header was directed downward with pace. David James scrambled the ball away with a mixture of good reflexes and good fortune.
Arsenal's ill-luck continued in the fifth minute when Freddie Ljungberg hobbled off and Walcott took his place on the left flank. The former Southampton winger was greeted with a chorus of boos from the visiting fans.
Almost immediately the 17-year-old switched to the right and began to make a nuisance of himself. Van Persie then curled an effort wide as Arsenal took the initiative.
In 22nd minute, Fabregas let fly from distance and James made a hash of a low save to his left. The ball sat up nicely for the onrushing Van Persie but the Portsmouth keeper had recovered sufficiently to block his effort from close range.
Already there was a fear that, like so many Arsenal games at Emirates, the visitors' goal was starting to live a charmed life.
To this point, Portsmouth had offered sporadic forays forward. However just past the half hour they showed their prowess from set-pieces as corners by Taylor and Pedro Mendes put Jens Lehmann under pressure.
The game seemed to be petering out in the build up to half time. Then, with the last attack of the half, Portsmouth took the lead. Taylor floated over a free-kick from the right, the diminutive David Thompson rose highest to nod the ball on to the post. It rebounded out for Pamarot to head into the empty net with Jens Lehmann stranded.
If that was a shock then Taylor's strike two minutes after the break was met with open-mouthed astonishment. Gael Clichy half-blocked Thompson's cross-shot and then Johan Djourou seemingly nodded the ball clear of danger. However it fell to Taylor on the corner of the area and the England Under-21 international lobbed the ball back over the flailing arms of Lehmann and into the far corner of the net.
It was an incredible finish and completed an incredible turnaround. Arsenal had seemed to have this game where they wanted it in the first half-hour but, three minutes after half-time, they were staring into the eyes of their first defeat at their new home.
Unsurprisingly, Wenger brought the in-form Adebayor off the bench straight away. The Togolese striker made an instant impact. His first run saw him tumbled in the area under a challenge by Glen Johnson. Referee Steve Bennett waved play on.
In the 58th minute he arrived on right on time to smash home an inch-perfect cross from Walcott.
Parity was restored two minutes later. James could only parry Toure's long-range drive to Adebayor on the left. His cross was nodded on by Campbell to Walcott at the far post. In truth the teenager made a hash of his cutback but it trickled to Gilberto who managed to direct a bobbling effort into the far corner of the net.
Emirates Stadium was alight. Who says new grounds have no soul? In minutes that followed the atmosphere matched anything this Highbury veteran has seen in recent years - with the notable exception of Final Salute Day.
Adebayor was making a massive difference. In the 65th minute he bore down on goal only to be dispossessed with a superbly timed challenged from the sliding Johnson.
Arsenal were rampant in the race for the winner. Van Persie ghosted past Campbell and, faced with only James to beat, clipped a shot into the side-netting. With 18 minutes left, Hleb shot narrowly wide on the other side of the goal.
Adebayor set up Walcott to shot straight at James, Gilberto then drove an effort a matter of inches wide. In the dying seconds, Van Persie curled over a free-kick and Flamini cracked a drive inches wide.
Arsenal had claims for a penalty at the death when Adebayor was hauled down but Mr Bennett was unmoved.
No-one at Arsenal could have been similarly stoic during this cracking match. But at the same time the home side could have done with all three points.
* Unbeknown to most spectators, Arsène Wenger was dismissed from the dug-out at half-time by referee Bennett and spent the second period sitting in the stands.
- Eboue 78
- Ljungberg 6
- Silva Goal!
- Aliadiere 55
- Walcott 6
- Flamini 78
- Adebayor 55 Goal!
- Johnson Yellow Card
- Taylor Goal!
- Pamarot Goal!
- Thompson 71
- O'Neil Yellow Card
- Kanu 85
- Hughes 85
- Kranjcar 71