Arsenal's class secures title at home of rivals

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Football

The celebrations were wild and prolonged. On the touchline coaching staff and youth team players were jubilant, in the stands supporters exulted, on the pitch the team's joyful dance was so extravagant one player injured himself and had to be substituted.

So much for Tottenham, who had achieved a 2-2 draw at home. Arsène Wenger, whose Arsenal team had clinched the championship, had a look like thunder and a glare which would have frightened Medusa.

The object of Wenger's ire was Jens Lehmann, the volatile German goalkeeper whose temperament cost Arsenal a victory. With Manchester United and Chelsea both losing over the weekend, Lehmann's lunacy did not delay Arsenal's coronation but it will hasten his own departure. When Arsenal finally began celebrating he was absent, having disappeared down the tunnel. A visibly furious Sol Campbell had followed him. The dressing-room atmosphere then must have been anything but celebratory.

Arsenal had looked set to humiliate their north London rivals when Patrick Vieira put them ahead after three minutes and victory seemed certain when Robert Pires doubled the lead half-an-hour later.

Spurs persevered and, in the sun, Arsenal eased up, enabling Jamie Redknapp to pull a goal back shortly after the hour. Then, in injury-time, Lehmann and Robbie Keane exchanged pushes in the box following a corner. Keane's was the stronger shove but Lehmann's was the first offence and, since the ball was still in play, the referee Mark Halsey gave a penalty. Keane coolly converted. Tottenham celebrated as if they had won the title, Mauricio Taricco over-doing it and bringing on an attack of cramp. Seconds later the final whistle went and Arsenal's 13th title was won.

From the moment John Terry's shot struck the post in injury-time at St James' Park, thus condemning Chelsea to defeat shortly before this match began, that scenario seemed inevitable. Arsenal are unbeaten all season, Tottenham had one win in nine. The points differential at kick-off was 43 points, five more than Spurs had won. It was a palpably unequal contest yet still they came, the home support, filling the stadium with a desperate hope that their flawed side could at least deny Arsenal a party on Tottenham turf.

That hope lasted three minutes as Arsenal scored a goal which encapsulated their season. Thierry Henry, counter-attacking from a Tottenham corner, carried the ball 50 yards then released Dennis Bergkamp on the left. The Dutchman curled a cross behind the Spurs defence and Vieira, completing a 100-yard, lung-bursting run, steered the ball in. At that moment the most realistic desire of all but the most optimistic home fan was that their team would keep the margin of defeat within respectable bounds.

Yet Tottenham recovered well from this early shock, gaining significant possession, though chances were elusive. The best effort was a curling 30-yard shot from Taricco which landed on the roof of the net. Then Arsenal upped the tempo. Bergkamp found Vieira in the inside-left channel and Pires turned in his cross. For a period only Kasey Keller kept Spurs afloat, denying Bergkamp, after Campbell had strolled forward; Henry; and, after the break, Henry again.

David Pleat, the Tottenham caretaker manager, brought on Jermain Defoe at the interval and his enthusiasm and quick feet led to Spurs' first reply, Redknapp driving in from the edge of the area. In response Henry hit the side-netting, Pires struck the bar and an Henry shot struck Jose Antonio Reyes. Spurs, too, had pressure with Lehmann turning over free-kicks from Redknapp and Defoe.

The latter led to the corner which prompted Lehmann's altercation with Keane, the keeper having turned it against the bar under pressure from the Irishman. The incident at last added some much-needed drama. Superficially the occasion echoed that of 1971 when Ray Kennedy earned Arsenal a championship-clinching victory at the Lane. However, then there was a real sense of tension. If Arsenal had lost, Leeds United would have been champions. Tottenham were a force themselves and came third. This time it has long been a question of when, not if, Arsenal would win the championship, while Tottenham's relegation worries had receded with Leed United's 2-1 home defeat by Portsmouth earlier in the day.

That result meant Spurs wanted a win rather than needed it, so taking much of the edge out of the occasion. Even so helmeted police ringed the ground shortly before the interval, and a few Spurs fans were arrested after finding Arsenal's post-match celebration too much to bear.

The grim truth for those fans is that Arsenal have now clinched a title at White Hart Lane as often as Tottenham have. And only the oldest of Spurs fans remember their successes of 1951 and 1961.

Wenger offered them some solace. "Tottenham can be a rival to Arsenal again," he said. "I really think so. If you look at the potential of the two clubs, financially there is no basic difference. The only difference now comes from us being in the Champions' League. When we have the new ground it will be different but not for 10 to 15 years while the investment in the ground is being paid."

Back in 1971 Wenger was combining his studies for an economics degree with playing lower-division French football for Mutzig. "Football was not as international then and I cannot remember Arsenal's win," he said. "I know it now because it is part of the club's history." So, too, is Wenger, who now stands alongside Herbert Chapman in the Highbury pantheon with three championships apiece.

Goals: Vieira (3) 0-1; Pires (34) 0-2; Redknapp (61) 1-2; Keane pen (90) 2-2.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Keller 6; Kelly 4 (Poyet, 78), Gardner 5, King 6, Taricco 4 (Bunjevcevic, 90); Davies 5, Brown 5, Redknapp 5, Jackson 4 (Defoe 6, h-t); Keane 6, Kanouté 4. Substitutes not used: Hirschfield (gk), Ricketts.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann 3; Lauren 5, Campbell 7, Touré 5, Cole 8; Parlour 4 (Edu 6, 67), Gilberto 5, Vieira 8, Pires 6; Bergkamp 7 (Reyes, 79), Henry 7. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Keown, Clichy.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire) 5.

Bookings: Tottenham: Redknapp, Keane. Arsenal: Lehmann.

Man of the match: Vieira.

Attendance: 36,097.