By Richard Clarke
Ten-man Arsenal took a priceless point away from White Hart Lane on Sunday in a game that hinged on three first-half minutes.
The encounter was lively but level until just past the half-hour. However, first Emmanuel Adebayor was stretchered off on 33 minutes and then Emmanuel Eboue was sent off on 36 after receiving his second yellow card. Those losses would have an immediate and lasting impact on the game.
Tottenham dominated for the remainder of the first half and opening 25 minutes of the second. However, a dogged Arsenal came closest to stealing the points when Alex Song slid a shot wide from close range 20 minutes from time and Nicklas Bendtner saw his shot tipped over at the death. Though Luka Modric might have won the game for the home side with virtually the last kick.
While Tottenham celebrated wildly after gaining an unlikely at Emirates Stadium, it will be the Arsenal fans who take most from this draw.
They stay in touch with fourth place Chelsea and have preserved a pleasing record. Tottenham have not beaten Arsenal in the Premier League since November 1999 – that’s now 19 games.
Wenger sprung a major surprise ahead of the game by naming Eduardo on the bench. It was 350 days since the Croatian had broken his leg so horribly at Birmingham. Even the most hard-hearted Tottenham fan would have been glad to see him back.
Andrey Arshavin also started as a substitute. The Russian had signed for Arsenal on Tuesday then flown back home to obtain his work permit. Bad weather had forced him re-route via Germany. That, and only 10 days of pre-season at Zenit St Petersburg, meant he would be employed only when needed this afternoon.
Elsewhere there were two changes. Song replaced the suspended and injured Abou Diaby while Robin van Persie came in for Bendtner.
His strike partner, Adebayor, was making his 100 Premier League appearance.
Tottenham had made their own major new signing, Robbie Keane, on deadline day. Surprisingly, manager Harry Redknapp had appointed the Irishman as captain immediately after he had put pen to paper.
It only added to a firecracker atmosphere for this Sunday lunchtime kick-off. Of course, the unofficial championship of North London was a stake. But both sides were also in danger of losing long-held status – Arsenal as a Champions League club, Tottenham as a Premier League club.
It is impossible for this game to be unimportant but this one was more important than most.
Tottenham had the early pressure but Arsenal had the first sight of goal. Eboue exchanged passes with Van Persie and the Ivorian drove an exploratory shot across the face of goal. Any kind of touch would have given the visitors the lead.
Aaron Lennon and Wilson Palacios forced Manuel Almunia into action in the moments that followed.
But Arsenal were looking sparky. In the 13th minute, Eboue, their brightest attacking influence, had the ball in the net but referee Mike Dean rightly adjudged the 25-year-old to have pushed Jonathan Woodgate in the build-up.
Roman Pavlyuchenko provided an immediate riposte by sending a snap-shot over the bar. Then Michael Dawson nodded wide from Luka Modric’s left-wing free-kick.
The little Croatian was starting to exert an influence from the flank. His raking ball sent Lennon clear but the former Leeds winger pulled his shot wide of the post.
On the half-hour, Almunia dived full-length to turn away his shot.
The game was starting to open up. Nasri robbed Corluka on the byline but Clichy’s dangerous ball towards Adebayor was cleared. Before all that Cudicini had spilled Toure’s low cross in the middle of the area.
Despite their vastly different League positions, the sides seemed evenly matched this afternoon. They were both looking for openings where possible but their defences were hardly water-tight.
However matters changed for Arsenal dramatically within three minutes just after the half-hour. In the 33rd minute, Adebayor pulled up with an injury, on the face of it a hamstring problem, and was stretchered off. The incident occurred on the far side of the pitch so the striker was carried off around the perimetre of the ground.
Almost immediately, Eboue clashed with Modric. Both players received yellow cards however it was the second for the Arsenal midfielder. He had received his first booking in the 17th minute for dissent.
Eboue and Adebayor went down the tunnel within seconds of one another. Arsenal were wounded and Tottenham went for the kill before half-time. Despite pressure, the closest they came was when Almunia tipped over a drive from Palacios injury time.
At least half-time gave Wenger time to settle his side and formulate a plan. He opted for a 4-3-1-1 with Van Persie playing a withdrawn role behind Bendtner, who had come on for Adebaypr, and drifting in from the left-hand side. It was all Wenger could do but it did little to stymie Tottenham immediately after the interval.
In the opening minutes, Pavlyuchenko profited from Toure’s slip but fired wildly over the bar.
On 56 minutes, Lennon’s lovely ball in from the right was nodded over by Keane with Almunia beaten. Tottenham were ominously in control. Arsenal were on the back foot and just hoping to see out the storm.
Van Persie fired wide from a corner in the 66th minute. It was a decent chance but their was little fanfare from the visitors, their main job was defending at the moment.
That said, three minutes later an unmarked Song miscued a shot inches wide from Van Persie’s corner. It was perhaps the clearest chance of the game so far and, in the circumstances, one that Arsenal could not afford to miss.
Keane volleyed wide from distance but Tottenham had lost their edge. Arsenal were scrapping and clawing their way to a point. The entire team were wearing long sleeves today but metaphorically they were rolled up.
Tottenham steeled themselves for a frantic finale. Like they needed it, Arsenal received another blow, literally, when Clichy clashed heads with Darren Bent and went off with blood streaming from a wound.
A full time approached you sensed the drama was not over. It wasn’t.
Bendtner’s fierce drive was tipped over by Cudicini at the near post and, from the corner, Tottenham broke. Adel Taarabt fed Modric on the right but the Croatian was denied by a sprawling save from Almunia.
As Emirates, this was a draw but honours were hardly even.
- Clichy 87 Yellow Card
- Eboue Yellow Card Red Card
- Adebayor 38
- van Persie
- Bendtner 38
- Gibbs 87
- Corluka 75
- Modric Yellow Card
- Lennon 86
- Pavlyuchenko 63
- Chimbonda 75
- Bent 63
- Taarabt 86