WHITE HART LANE was a cacophony of noise last night with the excitement of four goals, countless near misses and a mid-pitch dust-up all adding to the clamour. But the loudest cheer of all signalled a goal scored more than 200 miles away.
Paul Ince's equaliser for Liverpool sent the small pocket of Arsenal fans tucked into a corner of this ground into raptures. It also handed Arsenal the chance to decide their own destiny. If they can beat Leeds, at Elland Road on Tuesday, and Aston Villa at home on 16 May, and score plenty of goals in the process, they will retain the Premiership.
Easy? No. Achievable? Yes.
"We needed them to slip up to have a chance," said Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, "now it is very tight. We are not favourites, Manchester United have more games and therefore more chances to score goals."
Arsenal scored three last night but could have had plenty more after cutting Tottenham to ribbons in the opening 40 minutes. In the event, however, they were happy to win by any margin.
"We had a great first half, our passing was excellent," added Wenger. "To come in only leading 2-1 was difficult, it should have been 4-0, so we had to be strong mentally in the second half."
Arsenal utterly dominated for 40 minutes with the outstanding Dennis Bergkamp creating goals for Emmanuel Petit, after 16 minutes, and Nicolas Anelka, after 33. Anelka then hit the bar before Darren Anderton sneaked a 43rd-minute free-kick under David Seaman to set up a frantic second period. It was only when Nwankwo Kanu settled the match with a sublime goal five minutes from time that Arsenal could relax.
Nigel Winterburn, however, overdid the celebrations and is to be reported for "inciting behaviour" by Graham Poll, the fourth official. Winterburn taunted Spurs fans and abused a steward, he also seemed to give Poll a mouthful. His actions, while unpardonable in view of Sunday's events in Glasgow, illustrated the tension that surrounds this match.
Arsenal have been irritating their north London neighbours ever since they moved, despite Tottenham's opposition, from Plumstead to Islington in 1913. Arsenal since have won 10 titles to Tottenham's two - the last of which was 38 years ago - and even eclipsed Spurs' crowning glory, the Double of 1960-61, by securing a brace of their own.
A win at White Hart Lane set up the first of those Doubles in 1971 and the importance of last night's match evoked memories of that night, not least for George Graham, the Spurs manager, who was in that Arsenal side. So busy were the streets then that Alan Mullery had had to run the last three miles to the ground.
The streets were much quieter last night, except for a large police presence, but inside the remodelled Lane it was bedlam. It was a night to stand up and be counted, for "stars" to live up to reputations. David Ginola, against Lee Dixon, his old bete noir, looked in the mood, skipping past the full-back in the second minute before whipping in a cross which Tony Adams scrambled away.
After that, however, he was shackled by Dixon and Ray Parlour and it was Bergkamp who took centre stage. After eight minutes, he bustled between Luke Young and Sol Campbell before offering Marc Overmars a mouth-watering opportunity which Ian Walker did brilliantly to deny.
Eight minutes later, with Spurs pushing forward, Bergkamp slipped a pass to Petit who had burst unnoticed through the centre. He looped the ball over Walker and "one-nil to the Ar-se-nal" rang out from the red-and-white corner.
Soon it was two-nil as Bergkamp rolled a pass between Young and Campbell for Anelka to sprint on to. The finish was immaculate and, had it been matched when Bergkamp again released him three minutes later, a repeat of the 6-0 drubbing of 1935 would have loomed. Instead Walker saved Anelka's shot and then watched, relieved, as the Frenchman's header from the subsequent corner hit the bar.
Anderton's goal, from a free-kick won by Ginola, gave Spurs heart while Tim Sherwood's heavy tackle on Patrick Vieira, soon after the break, further increased the tempo. The subsequent melee brought a caution for Petit - Parlour, Young, Anderton and Dixon were also booked. But, while Spurs huffed and puffed, Arsenal created the better chances and, after Overmars missed two, Kanu chipped Young before driving past Walker to clinch victory.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Young, Campbell, Taricco (Sinton, 77); Anderton, Freund, Sherwood, Ginola (Dominguez, 77); Iversen, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Clemence, Nilsen, Baardsen (gk).
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Parlour (Vivas, 57), Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Bergkamp (Kanu, 75), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Grimandi, Diawara.
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).