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Arsenal v Spurs, 30.08.97

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published 30th August, 2017, but first written in 1997 by the late Brian Judson

Saturday, August 30th, 1997
FA Carling Premiership
ARSENAL 0 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0

Arsenal : Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Grimandi, Winterburn; Parlour (sub Anelka, 71), Petit (sub Platt, 69), Vieira, Overmars; Bergkamp, Wright.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Lukic; Garde, Marshall.

Booked : Bergkamp, Wright.

Tottenham Hotspur : Walker; Scales, Campbell, Edinburgh; Carr, Fox (sub Nielsen, 45), Howells, Sinton (sub Dominguez, 31), Clemence; Ferdinand, Iversen (sub Mabbutt, 45).

Substitutes *NOT* used : Baardsen, Arber.

Booked : Edinburgh, Carr, Campbell.

Sent off : Edinburgh (2 bookable offences).

Referee : Mr G S Willard (Worthing)

Attendance : 38,102.

Perhaps the best way to describe this match would be to watch the film THE ALAMO because Arsenal laid siege to Tottenham's goal for most of the match. Tottenham very very rarely crossed the half way line and Seaman was, at best, a very interested supporter, albeit slightly bored.

Arsenal rang the changes again but surprisingly, in my view, kept Ian Wright in the team. Arsenal v Tottenham matches are very volatile affairs with no quarter given. Wright is a complex person who is very easily needled and wound up, thus inevitably earning a booking. Perhaps it might have been better if he had been on the bench and came on late, because he might then have snatched an improbable goal. But Wright played for the whole of the game and was, inevitably, as frustrated as the rest of the team were. It speaks volumes of Arsenal's experience in Europe that they are still unable to work out how to break down a team that is determined to defend in depth.

Tottenham had big Sol Campbell back for the game, despite slight doubts that he was not 100 per cent fit. It was just as well he was because he was inevitably the rock on which Arsenal foundered. Campbell was everywhere where peril threatened.

Spurs still had many players absent through injury but kept Dominguez on the bench as a substitute. They also had Mark Arber on the bench, the latest of the Spurs Youth team to break through to the First Team squad.

In the first half, Spurs defended the Clock End. Arsenal spent virtually the whole of the first half camped outside the penalty area. They could quite easily have been 5-0 ahead before half-time. It was only woodwork and brilliant 'keeping by Walker that frustrated Arsenal for so long. Arsenal were very dangerous from set piece free-kicks. But in open play situations, Arsenal steadily became wilder and wilder with their shooting.

Just before half-time, Edinburgh needlessly upended Dixon as the Arsenal defender charged down the wing. I didn't think Dixon was going to be any threat. The referee had no hesitation in booking Edinburgh and as it was his second booking in a short space of time, he had no option but to dismiss him.

The Gooners around me rubbed their hands in glee. Now they'd show Tottenham! But I remembered times past when one team had 10, even 9, against a full eleven and how they had frustrated the opposition by defending in depth.

The second half saw the re-appearance of Gary Mabbutt, not only as a substitute but as captain of Tottenham. There is no point in describing the second half because Arsenal pinned Tottenham to the confines of their 18 yard box for almost all of the match. Arsenal had enough chances to have run up a cricket score. I lost count of the number of corners Arsenal won. Their shooting grew so wild that at least one shot ended up as a throw-in to Tottenham.

The din from the Tottenham fans in the corner of the Clock End grew even louder than ever. "We are Tottenham! Super Tottenham!" gave heart to the beleagured Spurs team. Arsenal rang the changes, sending on Platt and Anelka, both of whom were lost in the crowded 18 yard box.

The best bit (from Tottenham's point of view) came when Wright was one on one with Walker and looked sure to score. From three yards, Wright managed to scoop the ball over the bar. Seaman spun round and audibly swore, "Oh bollox!"

As the clock ticked away the dying seconds, Arsenal seemed to give up. Tottenham began to emerge from their defensive stance and began to cautiously counter-attack but without the conviction they needed to score a stunning goal. It was very late in the game when Seaman pulled off a great save for virtually the only time in the whole of the ninety minutes.

And then the final whistle sounded!

Considering this was a goal-less draw, I must say I was enthralled throughout the ninety minutes. It was instructive to see Campbell repelling the Arsenal attacks in the first half and then, with Mabbutt, organising the defence in the second half. Whatever Spurs do in the future, they must move heaven and earth to keep Campbell under contract. He is now absolutely vital to the club.(Ed - in 2017 - SIGH)

As for Arsenal, I can only say that they need at least two more players before they can win the League. I'm surprised they have retained Platt because whatever Platt may have had in the past, it clearly isn't there now. And Arsenal also need competition for the places Dixon and Winterburn retain. It isn't healthy for Arsenal to have two players who were the cornerstone of their great teams of 10 years ago to still be playing in the first team. But that is not my concern.

I don't think we learned much from this game as to whether Spurs have any hopes of honours this season. It was more a case that Arsenal threw away their chance of handing out a thrashing to Tottenham than Tottenham achieving anything. It is true to say that Tottenham's defence ultimately frustrated Arsenal's attack but that is still no explanation regarding the events of the whole afternoon.

After the match, Arsene Wenger commented, "It was just not Ian's day. It was just not the team's day, either." Gerry Francis commented, "Arsenal were quicker and sharper and at the top of their game. We rode our luck on a number of occasions but Ian Walker made a couple of good saves as well."

And so we now have another break from domestic football due to the idosyncratic planning of the World Cup ..............

Credit for this report should be given to a Gooner friend of mine for providing me with a ticket that enabled me to see the match. The seat was, inevitably, in a Gooner area, the Clock End as it happened. But, at least, I was able to witness an enthralling game, even if skill, flair and panache was largely missing.

Cheers, Brian

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