By Matt Fortune
The second-string North London derby provided the watching crowd at Brisbane Road, home of Leyton Orient, with everything except goals on Tuesday night.
Arsenal were playing the first of two away day derbies in six days, and in wet conditions battled well for the bragging rights. But in a game which included some wonderful defending, a goalless draw seemed the fairest result.
With a host of injuries to contend with, Neil Banfield named only four substitutes and gave a first start of the season to Sanchez Watt. Watt was a busy customer all evening with his pace and often intelligent movement creating problems for a Tottenham defence housing players far taller in stature than the Dutchman.
The home side flew out of the traps and created two quick chances, the first of which came on three minutes. Quick use of the ball in midfield freed up David Hutton and with a dazzling piece of skill the youngster found some space to fire in a cross. Dummied cleverly at the near post, the pacy delivery fell to Tomas Pekhart but, arriving just behind it, he shot over.
The Gunners soon worked their way into the game and combining the flair of Fran Merida, the power of James Dunne and Jay Emmanuel Thomas and the vision and attacking instincts of Nacer Barazite, they began to control midfield.
The visitors' first sight of goal fell to Dunne, but to call it a chance would do the midfielder a disservice. A deep cross from Rene Steer was flapped at by Spurs goalkeeper Tommy Forecast and when it fell to Dunne 25 yards out he did well to get any purchase on the dropping ball. His effort bounced just wide.
Unmoved by his mistake, Forecast came to his team's rescue twice shortly after. Snappy passing between several players unlocked the Tottenham defence but when both Watt and Van den Berg tried to latch on to the final ball, the keeper smothered well.
As both teams remained sturdy at the back, and despite the damp conditions being far from favourable, long balls became a feature of the game. The tactic soon paid dividends for the hosts, and were it not for a smart save at his near post by Vito Mannone, Pekhart may well have scored again.
The finest chance of the half fell to Arsenal after 25 minutes. Barazite cut inside with the hope of finding room and when it seemed inevitable he would be dispossessed, the Dutchman fed the marauding run of Dunne. Dunne floated a delightful cross towards the back post to an unmarked Van den Berg, but with Forecast about to pounce, the striker angled his header onto the crossbar.
A great deal of careful but quick endeavour led to a host of chances in the remainder of the half, but neither defence would be breached, and the sides went in level at the break.
The first chance of the second half came 10 minutes in. Thomas and Merida, so often at the heart of everything good in ArsenalÂ¹s play, combined well, and when the latter shaped to shot, the crowd gasped expectantly. The Spaniard though saw his effort graze the outside of the post.
Arsenal continued to search for a goal and went close again after 65 minutes. A quick throw in the final third led to a deep cross from Merida. His centre fell to the recently introduced Craig Eastmond, but his volley across the six-yard box skidded away to safety.
Tottenham started to assert themselves and came close 73 minutes in. A teasing cross was met with a dive by striker Simon Dawkins and Rodgers but the Arsenal man came out on top and headed away for a corner. Buoyed by their new-found dominance, Spurs continued to test the back line but any threat was snuffed out well.
An inopportune slip by Rodgers nearly let in Dawkins, and as the Spurs man let fly, Wojciech Szczesny scrambled across his goal just in time to see the ball go narrowly wide.
Szczensy was called into action moments later but the Pole, appearing competitively for the first time this season having replaced Mannone at half-time, saved excellently down low at his near post.
Spurs nearly snatched all three points right at the death. Andy Barcham burst through a couple of challenges but ran the ball a little too far in front and Szczesny threw himself at the winger's feet. The ball cannoned up to a crowd of players and Pekhart shot acrobatically towards the unguarded net only to find Abu Ogogo cleverly stationed on the line in the void left by his grounded goalkeeper.
The Gunners will be pleased with the point in difficult conditions and will look to build on the performance when they travel to Chelsea next week.
- Mannone 46
- van den Berg 62
- Szczesny 46
- Eastmond 62