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Spurs v Arsenal, 28.12.97

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

Sunday, December 28th, 1997
FA Carling Premiership
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (1) 1 ARSENAL (0) 1

Tottenham: Walker; Carr, Campbell, Vega, Wilson; Calderwood, Fox (sub Dominguez, 59), Nielsen, Clemence; Ginola (sub Iversen, 66), Klinsmann.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Baardsen, Mabbutt, Scales.

Booked : Wilson.

Goalscorer : Nielsen, 28.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon (sub Grimandi, 26), Keown, Bould, Winterburn; Vieira, Parlour, Petit, Overmars; Anelka (sub Rankin, 88), Bergkamp (sub Hughes, 79).

Substitutes *NOT* used : Manniger, Upson.

Booked : Bould, Keown.

Goalscorer : Parlour, 62.

Referee : Mr M D Riley (West Yorkshire).

Attendance : 29,610.

Jurgen Klinsmann came back to Tottenham to be greeted by a rapturous welcome from Tottenham's supporters. Although he worked very hard in Tottenham's cause, he was clearly not match fit and was visibly tiring before the end of the game. He refused to use that as an excuse and was still encouraging his flagging team mates to continue to battle as full-time drew nearer.

The outcome of the afternoon's events left Tottenham in deeper trouble as the results elsewhere conspired to push them closer to the bottom of the table. Yet the mere presence of Klinsmann raised everyone's hopes and gave some much needed confidence to the other ten Spurs players. Every Spurs player worked hard even if some of their footwork was less than brilliant at times.

Arsenal came to Tottenham with a depleted side. Adams, their colussus in defence for so long, was missing as he was about to depart for a much needed holiday to repair the ravages of wear and tear after playing football virtually non-stop for the past 10 years or so, apart from the time he served a prison sentence. No one can continue playing like that for ever and Adams is now paying for it.

Also missing from the side was Ian Wright. As a Tottenham fan, I have mixed feelings about Wright. There are certainly fewer footballers with a capacity for hard work when he is in the mood, certainly working a great deal harder than some Tottenham players have done in the recent past. But Wright has a darker side to his character, often seeing slights and insults where none have been intended, and a capacity for becoming involved in incidents he should not intervene in. In many ways, Wright has the same innocence of Paul Gascoigne in that Wright has never really grown up as a person, although, of course, Wright does not go round pulling his team mates shorts down! His time at Highbury is almost certainly drawing to a close as Wenger has implied he will eventually release Wright when a replacement has been found. Thus we may not see Wright again in a North London derby.

Over the years I must have seen quite a few North London derbies. There have been titanic struggles that have bordered on war. There have been a few which have been of numb-minding boredom that they have been quickly forgotton. This one will probably be remembered more by Tottenham fans than by Arsenal's. For Arsenal were pretty poor at times. I cannot remember a more anaemic Arsenal side than this one. They seldom troubled Walker, although Walker was easily the busier of the two goalkeepers. Arsenal's defence was seldom stretched but most of their players seemed to have their minds elsewhere. Parlour was their hardest working player for much of the game, particularly after Lee Dixon had limped off. Dixon had gone down on the far side of the pitch and was clearly troubled after receiving long treatment. He came back on the pitch for a short while but signalled to the bench he could not cope. There was a short hiatus whilst Arsenal frantically signalled to Grimandi he was wanted as he warmed up further down the touchline. Eventually, Arsenal managed to effect the change and Dixon disappeared up the tunnel to the dressing room for immediate treatment.

Grimandi barely had enough time to recover his breath after sprinting the width of the pitch to take up his position when Tottenham struck. Fox whipped in a centre that met Nielsen as he hurtled in. For once Nielsen managed to connect cleanly and Seaman was clutching at thin air as the ball hit the back of the net.

Wenger briefly appeared on the touchline to make some urgent instructions to his team. Meanwhile, Bould and Keown were quickly booked by the referee for some unseemly tackling on Tottenham's players. Bould was clearly seen arguing with the referee over his booking despite the fact everyone had clearly seen him manhandling Klinsmann everytime they clashed.

Arsenal could have equalised before half-time. Tottenham's defence, not for the first time, was caught flat footed when Arsenal counter-attacked. Anelka showed some intelligence to beat a pathetic attempt of an offside trap but was too hasty in shooting and saw his shot come off the base of an upright and hoofed to safety by Calderwood. Walker was seen swearing at his defenders for leaving him so exposed after this incident.

The question, as the two teams emerged for the second half, was whether Tottenham could ride their luck. It was asking for an awful lot of luck to do so. Yet Arsenal seemed unable to impose themselves on Tottenham, despite the fact Tottenham's defence is one of the creakiest in the Premier League. As the second half unfolded, Bergkamp looked less and less interested in the proceedings. It emerged after the game that Bergkamp had felt ill prior to the game and had not really wanted to play but had been told to do so by Wenger, who was concerned about the fact that there was nobody else suitable to replace Wright.

With half an hour to go, it looked as if Spurs might survive to win the match. And then Parlour, sweat pouring off him like Niagra Falls, was racing upfield through the flimsy Tottenham defence. Still short of the penalty area, Parlour unleashed a shot that Vega could not dodge. As Walker dived to the position where the ball would have gone to, Vega's deflection saw the ball fly into the opposite corner of the goal. (Ed:- Official goalscorer recorded as Parlour)

After that, Arsenal seemed perfectly happy to settle for a point. They called off the ailing Bergkamp who was clearly happy to go. He went straight into the dressing room, probably with the intention of changing and going home to sleep off the virus.

Tottenham tried to take the game to Arsenal in the closing minutes but were hampered by the fact they were tiring rapidly. Clemence, in particular, looked to be a virtual zombie, running around in a trance. He should not really be playing in the first team because he has not got the experience that Tottenham *need* if we are to escape from the noose and the trapdoor to the Football League.

After the game, Wenger admitted that it had not been a pretty game. He said he had been forced through circumstances to play tactics he would prefer not to use but with Wright suspended and Bergkamp struggling he did not have any option.

Klinsmann said the important thing to have emerged from the game was the commitment all the players had shown. It would be necessary to show the same level of commitment in future League matches if Tottenham were to escape from their predicament. He was convinced Tottenham could survive.

Rumours are circulating at Tottenham that Christian Gross may resign if the Department of Employment refuse to issue a work permit for his fitness trainer Fritz Schmidt. They have been considering the application since mid-November and have yet to make a decision. The irony is that if Switzerland were in the EU there would not be a problem. Gross refused to make any comment on the situation except to say he remained positive there would be a successful outcome to the application.

Spurs now have a two week break from their problems in the Premier League as they prepare for a Monday night encounter in the FA Cup with Fulham. On paper, Spurs ought to beat Fulham but funnier things have happened. Ginola was injured against Arsenal yesterday and Spurs do not know when Ferdinand, Armstrong and Anderton will be fit to play in Tottenham's team again.

It was not a game to remember should this have been the last for some time in North London's battle for supremacy. If Tottenham do go down, it may well be a long time before battle is re-commenced and by then the faces on both sides will be very different from those who played yesterday.

Cheers, Brian

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