By Richard Clarke
With 88 minutes gone in this pulsating North London derby Arsenal were leading 4-2 and as good as celebrating victory over their near-neighbours.
However that’s when Jermaine Jenas scored to give Tottenham hope then, in the final minute of injury time, substitute Aaron Lennon followed up to finish after Luka Modric’s shot had come back off the post.
It was an incredible end to an incredible derby and gave Tottenham a most unlikely point.
However no-one should have been completely surprised, this game see-sawed all evening.
The fireworks started in the 12th minute when David Bentley’s volley beat Manuel Almunia from fully 40 yards.
However Arsenal responded when Mikael Silvestre and William Gallas nodded home goals either side of half-time.
Emmanuel Adebayor seemed to have secured the points just past the hour but substitute Darren Bent reduced the arrears from close range.
Van Persie made it 4-2 almost immediately as the home side tried to cruise home but Tottenham would respond again with two goals in the dying seconds.
It was a bitter pill for Arsenal to swallow having dominated the game.
As is customary, Wenger made considered changes to the side that had beaten West Ham on Sunday. Denilson came into central midfield for Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Adebayor, the Upton Park matchwinner, replaced Nicklas Bendtner. Meanwhile Bacary Sagna’s return at the expense of Emmanuel Eboue meant Arsenal named an all-French defence for perhaps the first time. The right back was also making his 50th start for the club since signing from Auxerre the summer before last.
Tottenham had Harry Redknapp in charge for the first time but they arrived at Emirates Stadium still rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table.
It was now officially winter. British Summer Time had ended at the weekend and, just to hammer home the point, much of North London had been hit by a deluge of snow.
Little of it had actually fallen on Emirates Stadium. To all intents and purposes, it was the visitors who seemed likely to suffer a winter of discontent.
In fact, Tottenham would take the honours in the early stages of this game but their breakaways were only brief. After a relatively cagey opening, the first real chance of the game arrived in the 11th minute when Adebayor set up Theo Walcott to fire a cross-shot just wide.
In truth Arsenal were still working through the gears but they game would come to a juddering halt in the 12th minute.
Silvestre prodded the ball clear and a combination of Modric and Jenas set up Bentley for a volley 40 yards out. It seemed an impossible distance but the former Arsenal midfielder must have spotted Almunia off his line. He sent forth a dipping shot that the Spanish keeper could only palm into his own net.
The pocket of Spurs fans at the southern end of the stadium erupted like a volcano.
Arsenal’s response was to turn up the heat. Van Persie forced Heurelho Gomes to scramble a low shot around his near post before flashing an effort inches past the same woodwork.
The home side were exerting pressure on the visitors whose defence was creaking under the strain.
The best example came in the 20th minute when Gomes caught then spilt a corner from Samir Nasri. The ball fell to Gallas in space at the far post however the skipper blasted his effort over the bar.
Arsenal were doing all they could, hassling and harrying where possible but still sticking to their passing game. Before the half-hour it brought a couple of efforts from Walcott, both were blocked by a packed Tottenham defence.
Then Clichy thumped a long-range effort over the bar.
Arsenal were chasing the game, Tottenham were defending for their lives.
In the end it would be tenacity rather than pure talent that forced the equaliser.
Clichy muscled and hustled Bentley on the left until he had won the ball. The full back fed Fabregas whose curling cross-shot was touched behind by Gomes. Van Persie swung the corner to the near post where Silvestre arrived on cue to divert a header high into the Tottenham net. It was his first goal since signing from Manchester United in August.
Now the rest of Emirates erupted, although the cheers were laced with relief.
To their credit, the home side kept their foot on the gas until half time but chances were sparse.
At the break the scores were level but the prevailing mood was advantage Arsenal.
And so it proved.
Within seconds of the restart, Tom Huddlestone fouled Van Persie on the right. The Dutchman took the free-kick and this time Gallas glanced his header low at the near post.
Tottenham seemed instantly demoralised. They were certainly struggling to cope with Arsenal in the air. Silvestre nearly nodded in a third from another Van Persie corner and the Dutchman then cracked an effort just wide.
On the hour, Adebayor had a great chance to all but seal the points but thumped a drive past the post.
By this time Arsenal had utter control of the game however their lead was still slender. Bentley caused a ripple of concern with a low shot but Almunia smothered the ball with his body.
The seemingly crucial goal came in the 63rd minute after Van Persie’s long pass forward sent Nasri clear. The Frenchman lifted his shot over the advancing Gomes and Adebayor got ahead of Alan Hutton to touch the ball home from close range.
However Tottenham grabbed a lifeline. In the 67th minute Huddlestone’s low drive was pushed out by Almunia into the path of Bent, who slammed home from close range.
But the contest was alive again for less than 60 seconds. Arsenal poured forward and Adebayor slid a pass across the area to Van Persie. He steadied himself to rifle home his 50th goal for the Club.
Having had a major hand in Arsenal’s previous three strikes, the Dutchman certainly deserved a goal on the night.
With 15 minutes left he would have got another had he put any sort of touch on Nasri’s cross to the far post.
Wenger made changes towards the end. The aim was to protect weary limbs and introduce new ones. It did enough to keep Arsenal’s lead but did not help them extend it.
And there would be a sting in the tail.
Jenas scored from the edge of the area with two minutes of normal time left.
Suddenly Arsenal were nervous.
Four minutes of injury time were indicated and in the last of those Modric hit the post from distance with Almunia beaten. The ball came out to Lennon who had a simple job to score from close range.
At the end the Tottenham fans celebrated like it was a victory.
It certainly felt like a defeat to the Arsenal supporters.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.