Reyes keeps Arsenal's hopes of record alive

Portsmouth 1 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Online

On and on they go. Just two games now separate Arsenal from their much celebrated pursuit of a record-breaking undefeated title-winning campaign.

On and on they go. Just two games now separate Arsenal from their much celebrated pursuit of a record-breaking undefeated title-winning campaign.

Fulham, their hosts on Sunday, and already doomed Leicester, the visitors to Highbury on Saturday week, are the opponents standing in the way of history, but it is doubtful whether either club will have the champions rocking they way Portsmouth did at Fratton Park last night. But for a glaring late miss by Portsmouth's goalscorer Ayegbeni Yakubu and a spectacular 80th minute save by Jens Lehmann from Dejan Stefanovic's free kick, the Gunners would, indeed, have fallen at the 36th hurdle.

"They could easily have lost the record tonight," agreed Portsmouth's manager Harry Redknapp. "I'd have loved to have done it but now I'd like to see them do it."

With two 1-1 draws, Portsmouth may have provided Arsenal's sternest opposition in the Premiership and in the last two months, Redknapp's men have banished fears of relegation by gathering 18 points out of a possible 24, helped by seven goals in eight games from Yakubu.

On a pitch which had stood up well to the afternoon's torrential rain, Portsmouth had conceded most of the early possession to Arsenal who almost went ahead after 11 minutes when the recalled Ray Parlour forced Shaka Hislop into a desperate flying save.

Yakubu then surged past Ashley Cole and Parlour to test Lehmann who was relieved to see Lomana LuaLua fire Portsmouth's next chance wide. With Jose Antonio Reyes volleying over and blasting against the top of the bar, it seemed to matter not to Arsenal that Patrick Vieira was well below his best in their midfield. Nor did they appear to be suffering from the fact that the absentees included Dennis Bergkamp, Gilberto Silva and Robert Pires.

The impression was misleading. When Lauren got his head in the way of Matthew Taylor's long ball down the left, Yakubu seized his chance, squeezing his shot past Lehmann and beyond Kolo Touré's attempted clearance.

Hislop repelled Thierry Henry's attempt at a swift equaliser after Stefanovic had slipped, but it required Steve Stone's well-timed tackle to repel the PFA player of the year the next time he dashed goalwards. Portsmouth regained the initiative with Yakubu replying to a rash challenge from Sol Campbell ­ that brought the England international a booking ­ by heading narrowly wide from Stone's cross. Then he sent LuaLua tearing through the middle. Lehmann answered his critics with a courageous dive at his feet.

Arsenal's post-interval improvement was just what their manager ordered. "I thought we lacked urgency in the first half but they showed a great response after it,'' Arsène Wenger said, acknowledging Henry's shot that was tipped on to the bar by Hislop and hooked clear by Taylor. From Henry's ensuing corner that was only half-cleared, Reyes drove the ball back for the visitor's 49th minute equaliser.

Henry welcomed Nwankwo Kanu by laying on two chances for the Nigerian with his tantalising footwork. Kanu scuffed the first one wide and was robbed by Arjan De Zeeuw's perfectly timed interception moments later. But the Portsmouth crowd could not conceal their admiration for the creator. "We're going to sign Henry," they sang audaciously as their team strived to regain the lead. Somehow, though, Arsenal survived their late scares with Lehmann making a magnificent save that denied Stefanovic. "We will not be caught because we are not focused," Wenger promised. "We will stay focused."

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop 8; Curtis 6, Stefanovic 6, De Zeeuw 7, Taylor 6; Stone 7, Faye 8, Hughes 7, Quashie 7; LuaLua 7, Yakubu 8 (Mornar, 80). Substitutes not used: Wapenaar (gk), Duffy, Harper, Sheringham.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehman 7; Lauren 6, Touré 6, Campbell 6, Cole 6; Bentley 6 (Kanu 6 60), Parlour 7, Vieira 5, Ljungberg 7(Aliadierre, 89); Reyes 7 (Keown, 89), Henry 8. Substitutes not used: Shaaban (gk), Clichy

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire) 8.

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