Football: Wider view looks good for Wenger

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Tottenham Hotspur 0 Arsenal 0

Tottenham will feel they achieved a moral victory in this north London derby, all the more so when one considers the strength of their still- depleted side. But come the end of the season, the point which Arsenal managed with the aid of some new tricks, old tricks and even dirty tricks could represent a far greater victory in the grand scheme of things.

While enjoying the passion of these derbies, although not necessarily ones as dour as this one was in the first half, Arsene Wenger, their coach, is encouraging his players to look beyond the importance of domestic feuds to the bigger picture, and the message seems to be sinking in. Before the match Paul Merson was even quoted as saying that he did not care if they lost 10-0 to Spurs as long as they won the title.

They may have missed the chance to go top of the Premiership on Saturday, but it was far more prudent to come away from White Hart Lane with a point than nothing at all. The draw made it seven points from three consecutive away games and that is good business by anyone's reckoning, possibly even championship form.

The temptation is to be a bit daring if not exactly gung-ho in these fixtures, as anyone could see from just a glance at the records: of the last 60 meetings at White Hart Lane Arsenal had won 20 to Tottenham's 27, which just goes to show how much home advantage matters.

Gerry Francis, the Spurs coach, reckoned that his defence deserved credit for containing the threat of Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp, but I prefer to subscribe to the Wenger view that their recent absence, due to injury and suspension, was why they looked jaded and disfunctional. He argued that the need for sharpness was not quite the same in the case of midfielders, which may explain why Darren Anderton looked so impressive in his first start since November.

Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, could have cheered himself by coming along to White Hart Lane to watch Anderton's encouraging 90-minute return after injury in the face of an Arsenal defence whose professionalism, even cynicism, was on a par with anything Italy could offer.

Arsenal could be grateful that Graham Poll was in one of his more forgiving moods. As it was, Steve Bould still made it into the referee's notebook for what could only have been persistent misconduct, while Ray Parlour's booking earned him a two-match suspension. Unexpectedly, Tony Adams returned from injury to supply the assurance which England so sorely lacked last week.

Arsenal were determined to resist Tottenham by hook or by crook - often the latter - and one lost count of the number of times their players craftily impeded the opposition.

And when they did get through, John Lukic, deputising for the injured David Seaman, was there to stop them. It cannot happen often that a coach advises a goalkeeper to take more risks, but that was Wenger's advice to Lukic and the often maligned player responded with a more authoritative performance. A courageous one, too, given the way he dived at the feet of Ronny Rosenthal among others.

The Israeli's typically whole-hearted but ultimately fruitless afternoon was a reminder of how much Tottenham miss Teddy Sheringham (and England, too) and Chris Armstrong. When everyone is fit, John Scales and Ramon Vega included, it will, according to Francis, be the strongest squad he has ever had at the club, but that day is still some way off.

For the time being it is all about Arsenal, particularly this week. If they can emerge from the next seven days with maximum points from their two homes games, against Manchester United (on Wednesday) and Wimbledon (next Sunday), then we will all start to get the picture.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Calderwood, Campbell, Edinburgh; Carr, Anderton, Howells, Sinton; Iversen, Rosenthal. Substitutes not used: Fox, Nielsen, Wilson, Allen, Bardsen (gk).

Arsenal (3-4-1-2): Lukic; Keown, Adams, Bould; Dixon, Vieira, Parlour, Winterburn; Merson (Hughes, 88); Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Morrow, Marshall, Harper (gk), Shaw.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Bookings: Arsenal: Bould, Parlour.

Man of the match: Lukic.

Attendance: 33,039.

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