Arsenal no longer have their Premiership fate in their own hands after being held to a 1-1 draw at Portsmouth on Wednesday night.
Thierry Henry gave the visitors a deserved lead in the 36th minute with a wonderful curling shot from distance. Before and after half time, Emmanuel Adebayor should have added to the lead. They were made to pay for those misses midway through the second half when Lomana Tresor Lua Lua guided home a header from a free-kick by Andres D'Alessandro.
The point moves Arsenal up to fifth but they are now four points behind Tottenham, occupiers of the final Champions League place, with both sides having just five games left to play.
Martin Jol's side have a tough run-in, during which they will visit Highbury. The task facing Arsenal is to win all their games - especially that one - then hope other results go their way.
Having left out Henry at Old Trafford on Sunday, Arsène Wenger sprang another surprise tonight at Fratton Park.
We already knew that Sol Campbell would be re-joining Kolo Toure at centre back for the first time since February 1. The revelation concerned the pair directly in front of them. With Cesc Fabregas already absent due to a foot injury, the Arsenal manager chose to omit his central midfield partner, Gilberto, as well. Abou Diaby was drafted in along with Alex Song, who was making his first Premiership start.
Emmanuel Eboue was rested so Johann Djourou came in at right back. Henry and Freddie Ljungberg were restored to the starting line-up.
This was the 'game in hand' for both sides - even though it was required for differing reasons. The situation affected the opening stages. The first quarter-hour was over-eager, staccato stuff with neither side carving out anything of note.
Arsenal were the better side but the pace and trickery of Lua Lua was giving Campbell a tough return. The England defender coped wonderfully well.
In the 16th minute, Adebayor miscontrolled on the edge of the area when well placed and Linvoy Primus rushed in to rob the ball. Then Henry sent a free-kick over the bar.
In between those efforts, Toure had to race back and deny Benjani Mwaruwari when the Zimbabwean striker looked likely to profit from a slip by Jens Lehmann.
Gradually Arsenal were starting to turn the screw. In the 33rd minute Diaby won the ball in midfield and fed Henry. He found Reyes on the right of the area. The Spaniard found the sidenetting when he should have tested the keeper.
Four minutes later the visitors made the breakthrough. Henry eased Sean Davis off the ball five yards outside the Portsmouth area, exchanged passed with Adebayor and curled a delightful shot past Dean Kiely and into the net off the far post. It was typical 'Henry heroics'.
The lead should have been doubled three minutes before the break. A Portsmouth corner was cleared to Reyes on the left. He swept the ball cross-field to Henry. The striker elected not to shoot. Instead he threaded the ball to Adebayor at the far post. It seemed the perfect option as the goal opened up for the Togolese striker. Incredibly he miscued his effort and the ball rolled out for a goal-kick.
Arsenal had two more chances to kill the game 10 minutes into the second half. First Henry allowed Mathieu Flamini to take the ball off his feet 12 yards out then, more wastefully, an unmarked Adebayor failed to convert point-blank header after Reyes had swung a corner to the far post.
The misses would come back to haunt them. In the 66th minute, Campbell fouled Lua Lua on the right and, when D'Alessandro swung over the free-kick, the ex-Newcastle striker leapt in front of Diaby to divert a header into the far corner.
An injury forced Lua Lua off the pitch a couple of minutes later and Harry Redknapp switched from 4-4-2 to a more protective 4-5-1.
Soon afterwards, Wenger also made changes - Van Persie for Adebayor then Alexander Hleb for Reyes.
The alterations did not manufacture much until the final three minutes. Henry sent Ljungberg clear on the left of the area but the Swedish midfielder's shot was blocked by Kiely.
Djourou appeared from nowhere to meet the corner at the far
post. He had a free header but could only steer the ball across
goal and wide of the far post.
- Campbell 90
- Ljungberg Yellow Card
- Henry Goal!
- Adebayor 75
- Reyes 80
- Eboue 90
- Hleb 80
- Persie 75
- Davis 58
- LuaLua Goal!
- Mwaruwari 66 Yellow Card
- Routledge 58
- Todorov 66