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MATCH REPORT

Posted on 22 April 2006  - 12:00

Robbie Keane's goal gave us a derby lead as we kept our destiny in our own hands in what resulted in a 1-1 draw at Highbury.

Robbie Keane's goal gave us a derby lead as we kept our destiny in our own hands in what resulted in a 1-1 draw at Highbury.

It was a second 1-1 of the season between the teams but so well did the team play for 70-odd minutes, there will be a couple of 'what ifs' in the minds of players and supporters. Arsenal responded strongly to Keane's opener and piled forward before substitute Thierry Henry levelled the match, but the simple maths are now six points from two games will ensure fourth position.

There were enforced changes in the starting XI, with Jermaine Jenas absent with slight stress fracture of the shin, along with the longer-term problems suffered by Ledley King and Mido. There was a return for Anthony Gardner with Calum Davenport on the missing list with a calf strain.

There was a fair degree of surprise around us from supporters near our vantage point that Arsene Wenger opted to leave Thierry Henry on the bench alongside Cesc Fabregas.

The weather forecasts promised us a summer's day and the prediction was an accurate one as Highbury was bathed in sunshine for the final North London coming together at the old ground - the new one being clearly visable through the gap to the left of the Tottenham supporters in the Clock End.

The first ten minutes was both scrappy and uneventful as the teams struggled to put down a marker in the contest. The opening gambit on our part came some 13 minutes in when Lee Young-Pyo got to the line and dispatched a cross that Teemu Tainio - operating in the centre of midfield - nodded goalwards but was quite easily dealt with by Jens Lehmann. Robin van Persie's whipped free-kick at other end was connected with by the head of Gilberto and the ball flashed across the six yard box with no further damage being applied.

Aaron Lennon and Robbie Keane combined to nearly profitable effect when the skipper for the day played the ball into the feet of the nippy winger who foxed his marker Philippe Senderos and worked a shooting angle. His low shot being dragged across goal with no-one in an advanced enough position for a free pop on goal.

Another Lennon break left Senderos marking thin air, this time Jermain Defoe taking over and opting to shoot for goal when Edgar Davids was in space and unmarked to his left. Michael Carrick then chipped the ball forward and Defoe found himself with a second or two to spare in front of goal. This time Lehmann stood firm and parried away from goal.

The danger was the swift breaks and one came just before the 30-minute point when Van Persie evaded Michael Dawson and shot in low. Paul Robinson was more than equal to the task.

The home crowd were becoming more and more agitated as our boys were dictating the momentum of the game and zipping the ball around on what looked like a fine surface. Arsenal were almost being forced to play like the away team for most of the first half as our midfield switched from compact to expansive given the demands of the moment.

A low corner from Defoe led to another shooting chance for Tainio six minutes before the break, seconds before which, Carrick embarked on a Ricky Villa-style mazy run into the area - beating all around him before being forced slightly wide by Lehmann and shooting into the side netting.

Arsenal were again mounting a rearguard action in the first ten minutes after the interval with some sublime approach play by the boys not quite matched by the final ball. There was, however, a major scare at the other end when Gilberto picked the lock for Van Persie to shoot - an effort across goal that Robinson did well to divert away from danger.

The crowd were then lifted by the sight of Henry peeling off his training top and preparing to make his entrance - but they would have to get the ball first, something that was proving problematic on the day.

Another chance came and went when Lee crossed for Lennon to volley just wide, before Henry was joined by Fabregas in rising from the bench with 28 minutes remaining.

Carrick, who was simply the best player on the pitch, threaded another ball through that was just a touch too strong for Keane to latch onto.

Then came the big moment with 24 minutes left, Davids made the most of the space when two Arsenal players were grounded and dashed down the left of the area before squaring for the on-rushing Keane to knock home at the far post.

Home reaction was furious, but both players were soon back on their feet. And we were a goal up.

Henry got the better of Lee a few minutes later and pinged the ball back into the path of Jose Reyes, who tested Robbo's reactions. The team proceeded to retreat into a deeper formation, which could may well have frustrated the team in claret and the natives, but made it a tough period of clock watching for the rest of us.

The tired Lennon was replaced by Danny Murphy on 77 minutes as we came under real pressure for the first time in the game. That pressure was made to tell six minutes from the end when Adebayor picked out the run of Henry and the Frenchman applied a crisp finish.

To make matters worse, Davids was then sent off a second bookable offence after chopping down Eboue. We were faced with four or five minutes with ten men against a team with a head of steam, but the resisted the onslaught and made their point.