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Arsenal v Spurs, 31.03.01

SATURDAY 31ST MARCH, 2001
FA CARLING PREMIERSHIP
ARSENAL 2 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)

Scorers:-
Pires, 70
Henry, 87

Referee:- Paul Durkin

Attendance:- 38,121

Teams:-
Arsenal (4-4-2):- Seaman; Dixon (sub Luzhny, 82), Keown, Adams (Capt.), Cole; Parlour, Lauren (sub Kanu, 66), Vieira, Pires; Wiltord, Henry

Subs not used:- Manninger; Ljungberg, Edu

No bookings

Spurs (3-5-2):- Sullivan; Doherty, Perry, Gardner; Iversen, Freund, Thelwell, Davies (sub Etherington, 78), Young; Korsten (sub Piercy, 66), Ferdinand (Capt)

Subs not used:- Walker; Hillier, Ferguson

Booked:- Freund (Foul)

What a week it has been for Spurs fans! Firstly, the systematic cull of gooners from White Hart Lane was completed with the departure of Stewart Houston. Secondly, ex-Chairman Alan Sugar used his new-found freedom as a mere shareholder to label ex-manager George Graham as a "gutless coward". Thirdly we hailed the arrival of Glenn Hoddle (who was in the stand at Highbury today), giving us all real hope and optimism for the long term future. Then finally, in a match which we hope will bear no resemblance to the semi-final at Old Trafford next week, Spurs Reserves held out until the last 20 minutes before succumbing to a virtual full strength Arsenal side, who could only manage a 2-0 victory!

Call me a spin doctor regarding the last comment if you like, but it is easy to name at least 12 players who could, if fit, have represented Spurs today. Anthony Gardner acquitted himself well with his first full game at this level. Simon Davies came closest to scoring for the visitors, and Ian Hillier and new boy Stephen Ferguson were given bench appearances. For Willem Korsten this was surely the last chance saloon, as he failed noticeably to impress, bottling out of 50-50 chances, and being the weakest link in this side. Spurs will hope to field Sol Campbell, Ledley King, Stephen Clemence and Serge Rebrov next week, and maybe Stephen Carr and Darren Anderton will be in the reckoning too.

The hosts and all followers of football had been stunned earlier in the day with the news of 33 year-old David Rocastle's death, after a battle against cancer. The one minute silence was honourably observed in all quarters.

Spurs took a risk by defending high for the first 20 minutes, but it paid off, as the red horde failed to make much headway, despite their pace with the likes of Wiltord and Henry. Spurs right flank looked suspect, as Steffen Iversen struggled to hold his own, leaving Gary Doherty too often exposed at the back. To his credit Doherty made several vital tackles. Alton Thelwell tried to stick close to Vieira in the middle, but as the game wore on, the youngsters struggled against the superior class.

Henry had the first chance after 6 minutes, as Keown raced forward and sent the Frenchman away. Doherty held firm and got in a timely tackle, but Henry still managed to get a shot on goal which hit the near post and bounced out across the goal mouth. Freund responded for Spurs by latching onto a loose ball in the middle, and Korsten did manage to feed the ball to Ferdinand, who could only hit a half strength shot at Seaman.

Doherty then gifted the ball to Vieira, but Thelwell tackled hard before the midfielder could shoot. The threat of the hosts increased, and this time Lauren threaded the ball to henry, who cleverly picked up on the outside of Perry, shielded and hit a shot on target, which was comfortable for Sullivan. On the half hour Henry found Pires at the back of the area, and Neil Sullivan was in action again to keep the ball out. The Spurs goalkeeper was equal to a long range Wiltord effort.

There was some thought of a penalty by the home fans when Vieira raced into the area for a Pires cross, and went down as he collided with Doherty. Referee Paul Durkin gave the appeals short shrift, and in fact Vieira himself held his hand up as if to signal that he went down too easily.

Spurs should have scored through Davies after 37 minutes. Simon had been winning a lot of ball in the middle, and I thought was our most impressive player. This time he picked up near the half way line and jinked his way through all the way to the left side of the area. He even had time to measure his shot, but Adams deflected the ball for a corner to save the day.

Perry played the second half with a head bandage, after a clash just before the break, and it has to be said that it was a backs to the wall affair for most of the second period. The advancing Keown sent a ball past Gardner to find Henry near the bye line. He pulled back for Dixon to hit hard, and Sullivan to save well. Sullivan was then down sharply to an Henry header from a corner, when Gary Doherty lost his footing. Wiltord should have given Arsenal the lead when he was alone on the left side, but he skied his shot wildly.

The best Spurs could do was win a corner, when Freund crossed for Ferdinand to flick on, and Luke Young's shot at the back post was deflected. Arsenal countered, with a run from Pires, and another close range effort for Wiltord which somehow was blocked by (I think) Gardner. Dixon again forced a fine save with a powerful long shot which bounced in that difficult spot just in front of the goalkeeper. The woeful Korsten was replaced by the enthusiastic Piercy, but Arsenal took an expected lead after 70 minutes. A typical build up led to Iversen failing against Pires who curled a right foot shot into the far corner.

Davies was replaced by Etherington, and Spurs reverted to 4-4-2, pushing Iversen further forward, but to no avail. The hosts worked their way forward with too much ease, and Sullivan had to stretch to his left to save another Vieira effort. The last rites were delivered as Etherington lost out in the middle, and Henry was left with Perry to beat. Having done that he succeeded in the one on one against Sullivan.

After that first 20 minutes, Spurs seemed to need at least two touches before making progress. By the time they were ready to pass, there would be two or three opponents around them.

The home fans gloated, but this was a hollow victory, and has no psychological effect upon next week's game, and they know it. For most of the game the Spurs fans were in fine voice, particularly with rousing chants of "Glenn Hoddle's blue and white army"! It is interesting to ponder on the number of players that started this game who will be regulars under Hoddle. After Sullivan, I hesitate to add another name.

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