Vieira's arrival makes a point

 

Patrick Vieira emerged from the substitutes' bench last night to head the dramatic late equaliser for Arsenal which it appeared Neil Sullivan's inspired goalkeeping for Tottenham had denied them as Arsene Wenger's side desperately attempted to exploit Manchester United's lapse at the head of the Premiership.

Wenger's team dominated the second half, having fallen behind to a goal from Sergei Rebrov in the 31st minute.

North London derbies seldom reflect football's niceties, and the two encounters last season had seen a total of three Arsenal players dismissed.

This one was as frantic as ever and Arsenal lacked the easy football of Patrick Vieira, on the bench with a sore hamstring, to give their movements composure from the start. In fact, Ray Parlour and Gilles Grimandi found their space crowded by George Graham's decision to employ a five-man midfield.

Spurs played with the confidence and freedom from angst common among sides in form, if only at home. From the outset the stocky, urgent figure of Sergei Rebrov could be seen turning Arsenal's defence on the left, while Darren Anderton and Tim Sherwood offered Les Ferdinand close support through the middle.

Yet Arsenal might have taken the lead just before the quarter-hour when Nwankwo Kanu, again preferred to Dennis Bergkamp in attack, held off two Spurs defenders near the left-hand byline before laying the ball back short and low to Thierry Henry, who had a clear view of goal but dragged his shot wide.

Worse might have befallen Spurs after 19 minutes when Alton Thelwell, a promising but untried talent a this level, played a dangerous pass across his penalty area and, after seeing it intercepted by Robert Pires, was grateful that the Frenchman overran the ball.

Spurs scored a minute past the half-hour, and with a goal of excellent improvisation. After Carr had crossed dangerously from the byline on the right, Martin Keown appeared to have headed the ball to safety. But Stephen Clemence glanced it back to Anderton, whose 25-yard drive was blocked but not held by Alex Manninger, and Rebrov met the bouncing rebound with a sharp header into the net.

The goal raised a pertinent query about the interpretation of the offside law, since at least two Spurs players, but not Rebrov, had been standing offside in front of the net when Anderton shot. The Ukrainian was certainly onside when he scored.

Anyway, Arsenal should have been level within four minutes of the second half. There was an added urgency about their play now and Henry ended a run on the left by laying the ball square to Grimandi, whose shot was well held by Neil Sullivan.

Then Parlour reached the left-hand byline before finding Henry in space some 12 yards out. Sullivan, at full stretch, saved the Frenchman's shot superbly at the far post, but had Henry struck the ball first-time Tottenham's goalkeeper might not have had the chance to stop it.

The game having produced a goal, the football almost inevitably flowed more freely and produced a host of chances at either end. Sherwood, sliding in at the near post to meet Anderton's cross, toe-ended the ball wide, and Silvinho cleared a ball from Clemence off the Arsenal line. Then Chris Perry rescued Tottenham in similar fashion after Henry pounced on Thelwell's weak clearance.

After an hour Wenger, seeing his chances of closing the gap at the top slipping away, replaced Pires and Grimandi with Bergkamp and Vieira. Within a few minutes Bergkamp sent in Henry for a shot which again failed to beat Sullivan, who tipped it away from the far corner of the net, Sol Campbell clearing to safety.

Tottenham: Sullivan, Carr, Campbell, Perry, Anderton, Sherwood, Ferdinand, Rebrov (Armstrong 81), Clemence, King, Thelwell. Subs Not Used: Walker, Freund, Doherty, Leonhardsen. Booked: Ferdinand, Sherwood. Goals: Rebrov 31.

Arsenal: Manninger, Dixon, Keown, Adams, Pires (Bergkamp 63), Ljungberg, Henry, Parlour, Silvinho, Grimandi (Vieira 63), Kanu (Wiltord 71). Subs Not Used: Luzhny, Lukic. Booked: Pires. Goals: Vieira 89.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).