Crazy... but fun. The afternoon it rained red and white goals in north London

Tottenham Hotspur 4 - Arsenal 5
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The Independent Football

"Spurs in nine-goal thriller". For those regulars on the Shelf, brought up on tales of Danny Blanchflower, Jimmy Greaves and the whole "Glory, glory game" ethos, it certainly has a better ring to it than "One-nil to the Arsenal" but the end result was the same on Saturday. Nil points.

Nevertheless, there were signs of hope for Martin Jol from this north London derby. It was asking too much for the new Tottenham manager to repeat Bill Nicholson's fabled debut, a 10-4 victory over Everton in 1958, but most supporters left the Lane feeling optimistic.

Like every Spurs manager, Jol is a prisoner of the club's history. Unlike some of the intervening coaches, the ebullient Jol has the self-belief to tackle this head-on. A week ago Jol invoked the memory of Nicholson and said he dreamed of emulating some of the late manager's success. On Saturday he re-iterated he would remain faithful to the creed. "Our club has a culture which comes from the legends of the past," he said. "I want to write a bit more of that history and it is all about attacking football."

Fine words but will they be matched by actions? Ossie Ardiles is another part of that tradition, as a player and a manger, but his attempt to revive the "Glory game" foundered on the club's worst win/loss record of the past 20 years. Ardiles' innovation was the "Polo" formation, so called because there was a hole where midfield should be.

Jol insisted he wants his teams to play their attacking football from within an organised structure. He drew comfort from the knowledge that the bulk of Arsenal's goals came from individual errors, not through tactical weakness. Only by playing offensive football, he insisted, could a team progress. "I'm not having a go at Jacques [Santini, his predecessor], but if you are not prepared to play attacking football it leads nowhere."

Despite the caveat, Santini, who at the weekend confirmed press speculation that he walked out because of an inability to form a working relationship with sporting director Frank Arnesen, will interpret that as criticism. In 11 Premiership matches his essentially defensive teams scored six goals and conceded eight. In two matches, counting last week's appearance as caretaker against Charlton, Jol has equalled both tallies.

He is also yet to win a point but his philosophy is the right one. A team can survive playing defensive football but to prosper they need to attack. Everton may appear to disprove this with their 4-5-1 formation but they are yet to sustain their success for even half a season.

The leading teams attack. They have little choice. Rule changes, from the institution of three points for a win, have all favoured forwards: the ban on tackling from behind, red cards for professional fouls, the restrictions on back passes, the new interpretation of the offside law. It is much more difficult for teams to kill time and close up games - witness the number of late goals, with six in eight Premiership games on Saturday.

Arsenal are the leading exponent of attacking football with 37 goals in 13 Premiership games. Even a five-match winless run did not prompt thoughts of consolidation. "When you go forward and concede goals people start to question what you do," said Arsène Wenger, "but we have to be faithful to our philosophy, which is to attack."

The Arsenal manager admitted he was, nonetheless, relieved to have won. "It was a big three points for the morale of the team," Wenger said. "Our confidence level will go up again. At Crystal Palace last week we had a dispirited performance but this time we showed a great response when we were down."

Arsenal went behind after an attritional opening half-hour that gave no hints of the thrills to come. Lauren conceded a free-kick which was floated in by Michael Carrick. Patrick Vieira, under pressure from Ledley King, missed his header and the unmarked Noureddine Naybet scored.

Eleven minutes later, from another free-kick, came what Ashley Cole described as the turning point. This time Vieira was determined to reach the ball but Pascal Cygan also went for it and the ball looped up and over Jens Lehmann. The German goalkeeper receives a lot of criticism but this time he deserves high praise for an exceptional save. A minute later, Lauren's chip found Thierry Henry and Arsenal, who have not lost to Spurs this century, were never behind again.

Within 15 minutes of the break, Arsenal were 3-1 up. A chaotic mix-up between Paul Robinson and King ended with Noe Pamarot bringing down Freddie Ljungberg, Lauren converting the penalty. Then Naybet was caught in possession and clinically punished by Vieira.

It seemed game over, but Jermain Defoe revived Spurs with a stunning goal, only for Naybet to be caught again, enabling the influential Ljungberg to score. Spurs remained defiant, King exposing Arsenal's set-piece weakness with a header. Robert Pires came on to deliver what seemed the final word but Freddie Kanouté kept the result in doubt to the end.

"If you score four goals you should win," said Jol mournfully, "but I cannot promise it will not happen again." Spurs have got their Tottenham back, in all its capricious glory. Consistency may prove more elusive.

Goals: Naybet (37) 1-0; Henry (45) 1-1; Lauren (55 pen) 1-2; Vieira (60) 1-3; Defoe (61) 2-3; Ljungberg (69) 2-4; King (74) 3-4; Pires (81) 3-5; Kanouté (88) 4-5.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Pamarot, King, Naybet, Edman; Mendes (Davies, 68), Brown (Kanouté, 76) , Carrick, Ziegler; Defoe, Keane (Gardner, 89). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Redknapp.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Cygan, Cole; Ljungberg, Vieira, Fabregas, Reyes (Pires, 68); Bergkamp (Van Persie, 82); Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Flamini, Hoyte.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Tottenham: Ziegler, Brown, Naybet.

Man of the match: Ljungberg.

Attendance: 36,095.