Premiership clubs may be losing interest in the FA Cup this year but it was faintly bizarre to see one of them display a scant ambition for their own competition at White Hart Lane yesterday. Given the opportunity to take over at the top of the Premiership Arsenal produced a performance which seemed to have as its sole purpose denying Tottenham a victory.
The fevered rivalry of a North London derby game may have dictated such an approach but with Arsenal being lifted by the recovery of their captain Tony Adams, only three days after he was deemed unfit for England, and the return of Dennis Bergkamp after a three-game suspension, their passivity became all the more puzzling. Though the game burst briefly into life in the 15 minutes after the interval, it was still Spurs who had the best of the chances and by the end you had the impression that it was Arsenal, not Spurs, who had little to play for this season. It is possible that the Gunners were unnerved by Spurs' early bravado when Ronny Rosenthal and Steffen Iversen both had chances to score inside the first four minutes.
Suspicions that Arsenal were planning an Italian job - defend in depth, sneak a win - were sustained for about half an hour, during which time they survived a Rosenthal "goal" which was flagged offside. But with neither Bergkamp nor Ian Wright making much of a show, it became clear that a point was the limit of Arsenal's ambition. Indeed the only real save which they forced from Ian Walker came from Bergkamp's left-foot volley in the 56th minute.
Spurs really should have been rewarded for their greater enterprise and they would have been but for Lukic, who produced good saves to keep out the rejuvenated Darren Anderton, starting again for the first time since November, and Carr.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, admitted afterwards: "I have to be happy with the point because it looked like a goal was most likely to come from Spurs in the second half." Borrowing from his compatriot Jacques Cousteau, he cited "the decompression effect after Wednesday" for the listless performance of Paul Merson.
Rosenthal, David Howells and Colin Calderwood all had late chances to win the game, but Arsenal held out and will hope for better things when they face Manchester United at Highbury on Wednesday night. No room for decompression there.Reuse content