A north London derby, a pair of dysfunctional neighbours, a tale of a prodigal son on his return and an errant one punished for maddening stupidity. Of a goalless draw that did neither Spurs nor Arsenal any favours.
And of a raging Arsène Wenger. The subject of his anger? Not so much Emmanuel Eboué – dismissed for two of the most brainless yellow cards collected this season – but referee Mike Dean who ruled out a "goal" by the Ivorian, before his meltdown, after he turned the ball into the Spurs net following a scramble.
''We scored a regular goal cancelled by an illusory foul seen only by the referee,'' Wenger stated. ''I have seen it three times on television and I do not see what is wrong. He [Dean] has seen a push by Eboué when it fact it was Woodgate who pushed him and stumbled into Adebayor and falls down. It is nothing. It is not acceptable in a game like that.''
While there may be disagreement over Wenger's indignation – ''What did Mr Wenger think it was?'' said Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, ''Maybe it was an illusory non-foul,'' – there can't be any over Eboué's red card. Wenger tried to defend his player, claiming his first caution, for ridiculous, persistent dissent, wasn't worthy of punishment when there were other players ''committing 15 fouls in a game who don't get a yellow card''. Then, predictably, he added that he hadn't seen the second offence.
That came after Eboué stuck out a leg and tripped up Luka Modric after the Spurs midfielder had kicked out at him. It was poor from both of them but it's certainly been a harrowing season for Eboué, the sub who was subbed at the Emirates in December, booed by his team's own supporters, and it's getting worse. At least he had the grace to issue an apology last night, though Wenger maybe should also have taken a look at the match report on the Arsenal website which claimed Dean had "rightly adjudged" Eboué to have fouled Woodgate.
Following his tangle with Eboué, Modric was cautioned also and there was some conjecture as to whether or not Dean had seen what had happened, or reacted to an intervention from the fourth official. Replays subsequently showed that Dean had noted and acted on the evidence of his own eyes and that he was vindicated.
To add to Arsenal's sense of injustice, right or wrong, they lost Adebayor to injury, the striker pulling up in agony as he chased down Woodgate, also in the first-half. Wenger predicted he will be absent for three weeks with a damaged hamstring but added that attack – with Eduardo on the bench yesterday, returning for the first time since his horrific leg break just under a year ago and £17m new signing Andrei Arshavin alongside him – was one area of his squad that has sufficient strength to cope.
Indeed Wenger could claim some kind of moral victory, having survived for 52 minutes with 10-men following Eboué's dismissal and carving out two of the four best chances to score, beside the disallowed goal, while his side extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches and their record of not losing to Spurs in a league game to 19 contests. But it was a pyrrhic one too. The statistics that matter are the columns of the Premier League table and Arsenal now trail Chelsea by five points, in fourth place, and are seven in arrears to third-placed Aston Villa. They are also only four ahead of Everton. This is getting very serious for their Champions League prospects. For their Uefa Cup prospects.
For Spurs, also, the table makes difficult reading. They lie just two points outside the relegation places – three in effect once goal difference is accounted for – but have played a game more than Blackburn in 18th. It's incredibly tight and Redknapp also reported last night that he had lost Aaron Lennon and Vedran Corluka to injury.
And this was supposed to have been the Robbie Keane show. The striker returned, following his £15m transfer from Liverpool, is the new captain, received a raucous ovation and had one chance – heading the ball onto the roof of the net from Lennon's cross. He should have scored. But then so should have his strike partner, Roman Pavlyuchenko, who turned the hapless Kolo Touré but skied his shot. Arsenal were also incredibly indebted to the resolute William Gallas.
There were other chances – a Lennon shot, a rising drive by the impressive Wilson Palacios, tipped over by Manuel Almunia – but none as clear as in the 90th minute when Modric was put clear, as four Spurs players broke against two Arsenal defenders, only for the goalkeeper to block his side-footed effort.
There were also opportunities for Arsenal. From a corner, Alex Song, with Palacios caught napping for once, woefully steered his shot wide before Nicklas Bendtner forced an alert, acrobatic save from Carlo Cudicini with a fierce drive also in added time.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cudicini; Corluka (Chimbonda, 75), Dawson, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Taarabt, 87), Palacios, Jenas, Modric; Keane, Pavlyuchenko (Bent, 64). Substitutes not used: Gomes (gk), Bale, Zokora, Huddlestone.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Alumunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy (Gibbs, 87); Eboué, Denilson, Song, Nasri; Van Persie, Adebayor (Bendtner, 38). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Eduardo, Ramsey, Djourou, Arshavin.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Arsenal Eboué, Clichy, Van Persie; Spurs Modric.
Sent off: Eboué (38).
Man of the match: Gallas.
Attendance: 36,021.Reuse content