Reyes' strike keeps Tottenham at bay and Chelsea waiting

Arsenal 1 - Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Football

They have conceded the title but they keep refusing to give up the bounty. Arsène Wenger's grip on the Premiership trophy will have to be peeled off finger by finger before he allows the silver pot to travel west across London to the new kings of English football. Last night his Arsenal team, led by Jose Antonio Reyes' winning goal, played as if that status still belonged to them.

They have conceded the title but they keep refusing to give up the bounty. Arsène Wenger's grip on the Premiership trophy will have to be peeled off finger by finger before he allows the silver pot to travel west across London to the new kings of English football. Last night his Arsenal team, led by Jose Antonio Reyes' winning goal, played as if that status still belonged to them.

Watching this match in their team hotel, the Chelsea squad will have recognised the resolve and fortitude that has propelled them this season manifest in the red shirts at Highbury. Not only that, but the incisive passing, the thrilling attack that were redolent of an Arsenal team that played with such confidence before their October collapse.

Apart from a brief lull in the second half, Arsenal never looked like they were likely to hand their title to Chelsea by failing to collect all three points from their north London neighbours. Only when Robbie Keane rose at the back post to direct a header wide of the post did hearts around Highbury flutter.

For those hoping for a swift conclusion to the Premiership title race it was worth remembering that before last night, Tottenham had not had triumphed at Highbury for 12 long years. These are lean times for Arsenal too, but their definition of hardship is second place in the Premiership and a place in the FA Cup final and, for significant periods of the first half, they enjoyed complete dominance over their local rivals.

Mike Riley is the referee that Arsenal fans remembered only too well for presiding over the end of their 49-match unbeaten run at Old Trafford in October. It was that official, assiduously booed by the home crowd, who awarded Wayne Rooney a questionable penalty that day, but he was right to deny Patrick Vieira the same reward for a poorly executed dive on 34 minutes.

But Arsenal scarcely needed Riley's help, they were too busy plundering Tottenham down their vulnerable right flank. Robin van Persie, preferred to his compatriot Dennis Bergkamp, slipped Reyes through in the first minute, but once the Spanish striker had dodged round Paul Robinson, he failed to angle his shot inside the post. For a player of such fragile confidence, his response was impressive.

There had been 22 minutes played when Cesc Fabregas picked up possession in midfield, bounced off Sean Davis and was offered no resistance by Simon Davies. His pass through Tottenham's back four was collected by Reyes who, under pressure from Michael Dawson, appeared to have taken the ball too wide until the Spanish winger rifled his shot past Robinson. Chelsea's title, that suggested, would have to wait.

Tottenham only just managed to prevent themselves from being completely overwhelmed in the breathless waves of passing moves that surged through them. Vieira headed wide from Van Persie's free-kick on 37 minutes and the Dutch striker's turn and shot moments later just brushed past Robinson's post. Only Jermain Defoe threatened for Tottenham, forcing a save out of Jens Lehmann after Michael Carrick stole possession from Gilberto Silva.

Tottenham stretched the Arsenal defence - where Philippe Senderos once again gave a compelling case for him keeping his place ahead of Sol Campbell - when he nudged the ball out of Frédéric Kanouté's stride as the striker rushed down the byline. The half-hearted Tottenham appeals for a penalty were waved away by Riley.

That Tottenham asserted themselves at all in the second half was a return of the faith of Martin Jol who, with Mido and Keane on the bench, resisted the temptation to make a change. Defoe speared one of the few chances with which he was presented into the expectant crowd of Tottenham fans in the Clock End but the persistence of the England striker jarred Arsenal, not least Lehmann who shoved him over as they waited for a corner.

Lauren dished out a crafty elbow that caught Erik Edman's temple and the Swedish left-back was then the victim of a collision with Fabregas's elbow that left him groggy. The gap that had been so embarrassing in the first half, however, closed a little as Tottenham laboured to shut down the left wing that was such an open corridor for Pires in the first half.

The French winger did, however, provide the free-kick for Senderos that the young Swiss centre-half headed narrowly over on 68 minutes and then, with the introduction of Edu and Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal brightened once again. Kolo Touré lashed a drive over the bar from a generous 30 yards and Edu, released by Pires clipped a post with his shot.

Before Keane's miss in the final seconds, Bergkamp and Reyes went close again. Their supremacy in England has been delayed until Chelsea visit Bolton on Saturday, but it is a reality that Arsenal will have to embrace eventually.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Senderos, Touré, Cole; Fabregas (Edu, 70), Gilberto, Vieira, Pires; Reyes (Aliadière, 88), Van Persie (Bergkamp, 70). Substitutes not used: Campbell, Almunia (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Kelly, King, Dawson, Edman; Davies, Davis (Ziegler, 79), Carrick, Reid; Kanouté (Mido, 70), Defoe (Keane, 79). Substitutes not used: Naybet, Cerny (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

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