Tired Arsenal hold off the old enemy

 

Arsenal maintained their challenge for a Champions League place yesterday with a victory over their fiercest rivals which exposed Tottenham's lack of quality and their opponents' lack of rest.

Despite taking a firm grip of a lively game, albeit through an own goal and a penalty, Arsenal's UEFA Cup excursions took their toll towards the end as Spurs were allowed to surge forward in search of their sixth draw in the last seven visits to their old enemy's lair.

Gilles Grimandi did not help Arsenal's cause by getting sent off four minutes from time for a second yellow-card offence at the height of the siege. But even against 10 men Tottenham lacked the wit and imagination to offer George Graham further satisfaction on his return to the club he guided to two league titles.

What Arsenal's players lost to tired limbs they made up for with strength of character, holding on for only their second win in the last seven Premiership games and avenging Spurs' 2-1 win in November.

The sorry state of Graham's options were writ large in his assessment of yesterday's game.

"Arsenal looked very tired after playing so many games," Graham said. "This was a day when they were there for the taking. But we just didn't have enough quality when we had the ball."

This was not only evident as Spurs pushed forward towards the end but in the 15-minute spell they dominated at the start. Alex Manninger, replacing the injured David Seaman in Arsenal's goal, hardly had a save to make in either period as, in total, Spurs produced three shots on target to Arsenal's nine.

Arsenal, without the injured Emmanuel Petit and Martin Keown, took a while to stir but went into the lead on 18 minutes. Nwankwo Kanu had already gone close when Marc Overmars broke down the left and won a corner. Silvinho swung the ball in at pace to the near post, where Chris Armstrong managed to glance it into his own net.

But Spurs under Graham are nothing if not fighters. Silvinho earned more Brownie points by clearing off the line from Steffen Iversen's header before they found an equaliser on the halfhour.

David Ginola, switched to the right wing, fired in a swinging cross and Armstrong, atoning for his earlier error, glanced it past the correct goalkeeper.

But then Arsenal took control. Ian Walker saved well from Thierry Henry and Overmars shot just wide before, in first-half injury time, they restored their lead. Kanu fed Ray Parlour in the area, where he was upended by Mauricio Taricco. Eight different players have missed penalties for Arsenal this season, but Henry made no mistake.

It was a bad time for Spurs to concede a goal, but as Arsenal tired and the substitute Les Ferdinand brought some power to their front line, they gamely fought back despite losing Campbell to a knee injury. Yet they still struggled to trouble Manninger.

Such are the ups and downs of football. On 61 minutes the sight of Iversen being substituted reminded everyone that a week ago he had scored a hat-trick and Spurs had been in seventh heaven. Yesterday they had to suffer seeing Arsenal on cloud nine.

Arsenal: Manninger, Dixon, Adams, Luzhny, Silvinho, Parlour, Grimandi, Vieira, Overmars (Ljungberg 56), Kanu, Henry (Winterburn 76). Subs Not Used: Suker, Bergkamp, Lukic. Sent Off: Grimandi (85). Booked: Kanu, Grimandi, Adams, Parlour. Goals: Armstrong 20 og, Henry 45 pen.

Tottenham Hotspur: Walker, Carr, Campbell (Young 73), Perry, Taricco, Anderton, Freund, Leonhardsen, Ginola (Korsten 85), Iversen (Ferdinand 60), Armstrong. Subs Not Used: Baardsen, Clemence. Booked: Carr, Anderton, Ferdinand. Goal: Armstrong 31.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).