TOTTENHAM'S MANAGER, George Graham, had said all the right things before this tumultuous north London derby against the side with whom he once collected cabinets-full of silverware. "I cannot afford to do anything other than view this as the next game in a sequence," he asserted in his programme notes. George Graham, ha ha ha...
As he stood on the touchline after an hour, frantically directing his team's struggle to hold the lead against an Arsenal side already reduced to 10 men through Fredrik Ljungberg's 52nd-minute dismissal, Graham's comments looked hopelessly optimistic. Neither he nor any one of the 36,085 supporters present needed to be reminded by any advertising campaign that this mattered.
By the time the referee, David Elleray, blew his final whistle to give Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger his first defeat at the hands of a Tottenham side, the visitors were down to nine men, Martin Keown having joined Ljungberg in the third minute of stoppage time for a wild lunge on the substitute Jose Dominguez. Ten other names resided in the referee's book.
Tottenham, who had taken a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes, looked as much relieved as elated to have recorded their first White Hart Lane win over Arsenal in four years. After an inspired opening period, they looked constantly vulnerable against a visiting side who had pulled a goal back eight minutes before the break when Patrick Vieira, playing his last match before what will now be a seven-match suspension, headed home from Emmanuel Petit's free kick.
Wenger sought to remain calm after his side's fourth Premiership defeat - as many as they suffered in the course of last season - but he acknowledged that his side had a problem as they sought to contest the title with the likes of Manchester United, who will be delighted by this result.
Graham's influence was obvious in the opening stages as Tottenham closed down their opposition with a fanatical single-mindedness that were reminiscent of the Arsenal sides which the Spurs manager had once directed.
Only six minutes had elapsed when a lob into the box by Oyvind Leonhardsen caused Arsenal's intended offside trap to blow a gasket, allowing Steffen Iversen - Graham's only fully fit striker - to hook the ball past David Seaman.
Fourteen minutes later the stadium erupted once again after a Brazilian- style set piece from Tim Sherwood increased the lead. Tottenham made much of asking the referee to ensure the Arsenal wall retreated a full 10 yards. And after Ginola had stopped Stephen Clemence's free kick invitingly for him, Sherwood offered immediate justification for his particularity as he bent the ball outrageously inside David Seaman's left-hand post.
That proved to be Tottenham's high-water mark in a match that involved an ever-increasing level of free kicks and energetic debate which caused the overhead screens to remain diplomatically blank on more than one occasion.
Elleray made obvious efforts not to start on the bookings, even calming down Leonhardsen early on when the Norwegian appeared to push him. But the Harrow schoolmaster could only take so much as the players got stuck into each other, and soon the yellow card was brandished with depressing regularity.
Wenger saw Ljungberg's departure as a turning point. The Swede pushed Justin Edinburgh away with both hands after a challenge involving the two but, according to the Arsenal manager, he was dismissed for head- butting Ginola in the consequent melee. "If he did it, the referee was 200 per cent right," Wenger said. "But Fredrik is destroyed. He said he didn't do anything wrong."
Wenger believed the worst foul of the match had been one that went unpunished, claiming that Sherwood had elbowed Petit in the face. But he was rightly proud of the spirit displayed by his side, who would have claimed a point but for an inspired 75th-minute double save from Tottenham keeper, Ian Walker, who blocked point-blank efforts from Davor Suker and Marc Overmars.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Campbell, Perry, Edinburgh; Leonhardsen (Fox, 87), Sherwood, Clemence, Ginola (Dominguez, 88); Iversen, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Baardsen (gk), Vega, Young.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Ljungberg, Vieira, Petit (Grimandi, 77), Overmars; Kanu (Suker, 71), Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Vivas, Upson.
Referee: D Elleray (Middlesex).
Bookings: Tottenham Hotspur: Edinburgh, Leonhardsen, Clemence, Carr. Arsenal: Petit, Bergkamp, Vieira, Dixon, Suker. Sent off: Ljungberg 52, Keown 90.
Man of the match: Campbell.
Attendance: 36,085.Reuse content