Football: Fever pitch as Arsenal go top

Arsenal 1 Anelka

Derby County 0

Attendance: 37,323

ARSENAL BEGAN at a stroll and ended in a panic yesterday, but just managed to take their turn at Premiership leapfrog, nipping back above Manchester United to regain the championship lead.

The holders played some pretty football, too much at times, but never looked like adding more than a couple of goals to the 11 they had scored against Wimbledon and Middlesbrough in their last two matches. In the event they got only one, from Nicolas Anelka after 13 minutes.

Together with a sharp spot from the referee, Neale Barry, and an excellent late save from David Seaman, it was enough move them a point clear of Manchester United. Their challengers still have a match in hand.

"It was difficult for us," said Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager. "Derby gave a lot, we suffered from the heat and our passing was poor. We needed that special strength at the back but, in the end, we got three points, three important points."

"We had to grind it out," added Nigel Winterburn. "They invited us on to them and when your passing is not spot on it is a struggle."

This fixture of a decade ago, when Arsenal won their first championship in 18 years, has gone down into Highbury lore, filed under Nightmares. It was the day, since immortalised in the print and film version of Fever Pitch, that Arsenal fans thought they had blown the title. Arsenal lost 2-1 and, though they stayed top, Liverpool (this was in the days they still challenged for titles) were made favourites.

Arsenal, of course, went on to win the title at Anfield but Manchester United were unlikely to be as forgiving, so the memory of that May afternoon in 1989 still lingered at Highbury yesterday, especially when the visitors looked like they may take a point in the closing minutes.

There was no excuse for complacency, the Arsenal back four, remarkably, was unchanged from that of 10 years ago, Martin Keown's suspension enabling Steve Bould to return.

Dennis Bergkamp was not among the starters, the form of Nwankwo Kanu and Anelka enabling Wenger to ease the Dutchman back to match action. Derby had less illustrious names on the bench but they did play three- up, though this move was as much defensive as offensive, the idea being to stop Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn rampaging down the flanks.

This ploy was disrupted after 13 minutes when Deon Burton pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring strain as he sought to prevent Ray Parlour running onto a sumptuous Patrick Vieira pass.

Vieira had already rifled a shot over from 30 yards, but it was Parlour who opened Derby up, sliding an angled pass into the box which Anelka, slipping behind Jacob Laursen, thumped first-time inside the far post.

That seemed to be that. Pull out the deckchair, put on the shades and count the goals. However, Arsenal's players did much the same and the contest degenerated into an exercise in containment, County seeking to keep the goals down, Arsenal to conserve their energy for Wednesday's north London derby.

Emmanuel Petit, Parlour and Marc Overmars went close to adding a second while Lars Bohinen and Paulo Wanchope caused brief alarms at the other end, but the interval was reached without further excitement. Kanu, in particular, showed excellent feet, but Arsenal's movement was restricted by the heat and a similar languor appeared to afflict their passing.

The torpor briefly lifted at the start of the second half with a series of scrambles in the Derby area, but the pace slowed again and, after an hour, Derby began to harbour delusions of equality. They enjoyed periods of possession and almost levelled when Darryl Powell, one of several players giving valiant service out of position, volleyed just over.

Wenger, unimpressed by this, brought on Bergkamp to pep up his soporific team. Almost immediately Overmars worried Mart Poom with a cross-shot then, after a 70-yard counter-attacking run, just failed to deliver the final ball.

A series of substitutions increased the match's similarity to a friendly but then Derby "scored". Or rather, after Seaman spilled a Carbonari free- kick, Wanchope knocked it out of his reach with his hand - probably accidentally, then forced the ball home. Fortunately for Arsenal, the referee was still wide awake.

So, now, was everyone else. Both sides, and their fans, suddenly realised the game was still there to be drawn and, as Derby piled forward, panic gripped the home support. Some of the players were also affected but Seaman stayed cool and, when Wanchope beat Adams to a falling ball the goalkeeper was 15 yards off his line to block. The rebound fell to Marvin Robinson but his shot went wide and, with it, the hope of a Sunday bonus for watching Manchester United fans.

This is awards month at Highbury with every match being marked by a series of presentations. Yesterday it was the turn of Steve Braddock, the groundsman of the year; David Smith, a wheelchair-bound fan who was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame; and the elusive Anelka, who belatedly received the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year award.

Next time Arsenal play at home, on 16 May, they hope to be collecting another award, the FA Premier League title. After this Manchester United remain favourites but Arsenal are still very much in the hunt.

Goals: Anelka (14) 1-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Hughes, 76); Kanu (Bergkamp, 62), Anelka (Diawara, 78). Substitutes not used: Grimandi, Lukic (gk).

Derby County (3-4-3): Poom; Prior, Carbonari, Laursen; Delap, Bohinen (Murray, 68), Eranio, Powell; Burton (Harper, 13; Robinson, 78), Beck, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Jackson, Knight (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Derby: Delap, Carbonari, Murray, Prior.

Man of the match: Seaman.

Attendance: 37,323.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel
travel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel