Whether the prize is a European Cup final in Paris or fourth place in the Premiership, Arsenal have developed a fixation with testing the nerve of their Champions' League rivals at the death this season. Today, Tottenham know exactly how Juan Roman Riquelme felt.
A spirited victory at Manchester City last night has placed Martin Jol's team in the unenviable position of the Argentina playmaker, that of having to deliver in the final minute to keep hopes alive or, in Tottenham terms, beating West Ham on the final day of the season to ensure fourth place has not disappeared before Arsenal take on Barcelona at the Stade de France.
Two late goals from Jose Antonio Reyes brought Arsène Wenger just reward for a bold substitution policy against City as Arsenal closed the gap on their north London rivals to a meagre point with only one more game to play, and guaranteed that there will be more at stake against Wigan this Sunday than a poignant farewell to Highbury. "It will be interesting now but we have to do our job against Wigan," said Wenger, who saw Ashley Cole complete his first Premiership 90 minutes this year.
"It will be in the interests of West Ham to play a full team because they will want to go into the FA Cup final having prepared properly."
That may be a distant hope, but given Arsenal's belated recovery in the Premiership, Wenger has no reason to give up now. Cole made an understandably hesitant start as City's enterprise made for a fraught night, with several spats between opposing players and Robin Van Persie caught up in controversy when he appeared to give a one-fingered salute to the home supporters who barracked him following his second-half substitution.
As Cole, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and others settled into the contest, however, so the momentum swung in Arsenal's favour. Wenger added: "This is just right for England with Cole. It was difficult for him but in another five weeks he will be perfect for England." Some good news for England out of Manchester then.
Richard Dunne had been the game's dominant figure but he was powerless to prevent Henry prising open the City defence on the half-hour and providing Freddie Ljungberg with his first Premiership goal since April last year. The Arsenal captain fashioned the opener by stepping inside Dunne and Claudio Reyna and disguising an outstanding pass between the City centre-half and David Sommeil for Ljungberg, looking suspiciously offside, to take one touch and finish low beyond David James. Eight minutes later, however, City levelled through Sommeil when he pounced from a yard out after Jens Lehmann had been distracted after a Joey Barton corner.
In the second half, Van Persie was foiled twice by James, Ljungberg hit the post and Alexander Hleb saw a long-range effort tipped over by James, but the threat came from both sides and Lehmann made a superb stop from Dunne.
The European Cup finalists, however, were not to be denied. Wenger made three positive substitutions and was rewarded when two, Robert Pires and Reyes, started and finished the move that reclaimed the lead 12 minutes from time. A threaded pass by Pires released Emmanuel Eboué and his cut-back fell perfectly for the Spaniard to beat James, and he was beaten again seven minutes from time when Reyes swept a delightful finish into the top corner.
"Every one of their substitutes would have made my team," mourned City manager Stuart Pearce.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Sommeil, Dunne, Richards, Sun Jihai; Sinclair (Croft, 77), Reyna, Barton, Riera (Flood, 82); Samaras, Vassell. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Mills, Wright-Phillips.
Arsenal (4-5-1): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Campbell, Cole; Hleb (Pires, 72), Gilberto, Song (Fabregas, 58), Ljungberg; Henry, Van Persie (Reyes, 72). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Djourou.
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).Reuse content