Robert Pires came off the bench to fire his eighth goal in 10 North London derbies and secure a precious point for Arsène Wenger's side.
This had been one of the most eagerly-awaited games between Arsenal and Tottenham in recent years. Martin Jol's team were third and flying, Wenger's outfit supposedly stuttering. Was the balance of power about to shift in this part of the capital?
It certainly seemed that way when Ledley King thundered home a header in the 17th minute. Tottenham might have added another during a first half in which they dominated.
However Wenger changed the style of his side at the break. He had started with a more resilient, tackling team. Pires' introduction gave them more flair and Robin van Persie's arrival just past the hour gave added even further impetus.
The equaliser arrived with 13 minutes left. Paul Robinson flapped at Dennis Bergkamp's free-kick and Pires' first-time volley ensured the spoils were shared. They nearly stole an unlikely winner at the death.
It seems news of Arsenal's demise may have been exaggerated.
Wenger made three changes from the Premiership game against Manchester City last weekend. The absence of Thierry Henry (thigh) was already known and Sol Campbell's return at centre back could have been predicted after his impressive return from a hamstring injury at Sunderland on Tuesday.
The decision to leave Pires on the bench was more intriguing. He was replaced by Freddie Ljungberg, back from a hamstring problem himself, on the left flank and Francesc Fabregas was stationed on the right. Bergkamp and Jose Antonio Reyes were paired together up front.
There is nothing better than a North London derby with an early kick-off to stir the blood. This game started with real gusto but little goalmouth action. Significantly, both of Arsenal's central midfielders, Gilberto and Mathieu Flamini, were booked inside the first 14 minutes.
The home side were ahead three minutes later. Gilberto fouled Jermaine Jenas on the right and Michael Carrick swung over the free-kick. The unmarked King rose highest in the area and powered home the header. There had been little between the sides until that point but the goal changed all that.
Carrick started to boss the game. In the 23rd minute, the former West Ham midfielder met a lay-off by Jenas with a fierce first-time drive. His rocket-powered effort flew inches past Lehman's left-hand post.
Just before the half-hour, Carrick sprayed the ball wide to Defoe and the striker laid the ball back for Jenas on the edge of the area. Again the contact was perfect and Lehmann had to be at his best to palm over the England midfielder's swerving drive.
Mido nodded wide from Carrick's corner and, even though Arsenal got back into the game before the break, Jenas nearly converted Defoe's low cross at the near post.
Wenger reverted to a more familiar formation after the interval. Pires came on for Flamini and slotted in on the left hand side, Fabregas joined Gilberto in the middle and Ljungberg switched to the right.
Within seconds of the restart, the Swede had forced a fine save from Paul Robinson. However, had he scored, the goal would not have counted as referee Steve Bennett pulled play back for a Tottenham throw.
It seemed Arsenal were going to try to push back the home side. It made for an open game. Toure smothered Defoe's shot at the near post and Lehmann's blocked a drive from the same player when the striker bustled through on the left. In-between those efforts Pires thumped sent a dipping a free-kick just over the bar.
In the 64th minute, Wenger brought on Van Persie for Ljungberg. It took only two minutes for him to make an impact. Gilberto and Pires created the opportunity on the edge of the area and the Dutchman's drive through a ruck of players was parried superbly by Robinson diving full length of his left. Two minutes later, Van Persie just failed to touch home a perceptive angled pass from Pires.
Arsenal were starting to exert some control for the first time in the game. It quickly brought dividends.
Paul Stalteri felled Reyes on the left and Bergkamp curled in the free kick. It was 2.30pm on this chilly October afternoon and the sun had just crept into the Spurs area. Perhaps that affected Robinson because he could only slap the ball to Pires eight yards out. The Frenchman hit the dropping ball first-time and it flew into the net left vacated by the tumbling keeper.
Now Arsenal had the impetus. They broke with pace in search of a winner and Van Persie's drive was blocked when it seemed it might be heading for the far corner.
However, a draw was about fair.
Arsenal had maintained their position in London's footballing pecking order and taken home a well-deserved point.
- Ljungberg 65
- Flamini 45 Yellow Card
- Silva Yellow Card
- Reyes 90
- Cygan 90
- Pires 45 Goal!
- Persie 65
- Dawson Yellow Card
- King Goal!
- Lee Yellow Card
- Tainio 79 Yellow Card
- Lennon 73
- Defoe 82 Yellow Card
- Reid 73
- Mendes 79
- Keane 82