Furious Wenger masters art of selective myopia

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The Independent Football

"Will you please hear it for the Premiership champions," said the Highbury announcer at half-time. "Arsenal Ladies." The presentation to the top team in women's football was about as good as the afternoon got for the home fans, at least until Thierry Henry came off the bench and scored - as you knew he would.

It was an equaliser Arsenal hardly merited on balance, and the failure to close the gap on Spurs in the race for fourth place virtually narrowed their aspirations of European football next season to one imperative, winning the Champions' League. On the occasion of the final north London derby at Highbury, could this have been Henry's last goal at Highbury as he ponders where his future lies? When Spurs capped an hour of domination with Robbie Keane's goal it also sparked the dispute of the day - whether Tottenham should have voluntarily halted play rather than go on to put the ball past Jens Lehmann.

In winning a tackle with Emm-anuel Eboué to start the goal move, Michael Carrick left the Arsenal substitute huddled on the floor, though he subsequently recovered healthily enough, and Spurs did not think they should have put the ball out. Nor, crucially, did the referee, Steve Bennett, who all through the game had been discounting on a regular basis the fouls sought by Arsenal as they went to ground.

Being a goal down with less than a third of the game left, Arsenal erupted. Their manager, Arsène Wenger, who has regularly faced accusations of selective myopia where his lads are concerned, went nose to nose with the Tottenham coach, Martin Jol, who then and later said he had not seen the tackle, a comment which brought from Wenger the accusation that his opposite number was lying. It was a riskily provocative thing to do. "He should not act like that," said the Dutchman. "I had to hold back because he doesn't know how strong I am."

To stop the action voluntarily when a player goes down is a convention, not a rule, of course, and Arsenal have profited in the past on such occasions. To Wenger's ongoing post-match complaints, Jol said of Arsenal, "Sometimes they have to take things on the chin", as perhaps Wenger came close to doing.

There was no managerial handshake afterwards, either, Jol having marched on to the field to congratulate his team and the fans crammed into one corner of the ground, clearly still angry at being accused of lying. Wenger said he found Spurs' attitude "very, very disappointing, the first time I have seen that in Eng-lish football". Which is, perhaps, where selective myopia sets in.

All of this was watched by the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who had clearly not turned up to watch anybody in the Arsenal team. Of the Spurs line-up, there were three he was assessing before naming his World Cup squad - Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Michael Dawson - and two of them certainly advanced their case.

Since Wenger opted to hold back Cesc Fabregas until just before Spurs scored, Carrick was offered more time and space to control the centre of midfield, an opportunity he seized with élan and confidence. Dawson, already an England Under-21 regular, was always comfortable at the heart of defence, even with the introduction of Henry, and his contribution when Spurs were reduced to 10 men was crucial. Defoe was less impressive, being too easily bundled off the ball and not contributing his share when his side were pushed back in the later stages.

This was the first time Spurs have managed to get away with a point after six straight defeats at Highbury. A more relevant statistic is that Tottenham have finished below Arsenal for the past 11 seasons, and their jubilant fans spotted a conclusion to that depressing run. So, in the end, a point was something that delighted everybody from their area of north London.

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