Classic match: Arsenal 3 Tottenham 1, Premier League (24 November 1996)

Arsene Wenger's first North London derby came early in his Arsenal career; it was only his sixth match in charge. The manager fielded a strong starting line up against an in-form Tottenham side who had won six of their last seven games, although John Lukic - on his second stay at the club - had to be drafted in to replace the injured David Seaman.
Arsenal ultimately won the match in dramatic style. In the Guardian, David Lacey wrote: “Perhaps it needed a Frenchman to trim the feathers of the north London cockerel. Certainly Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal beat Tottenham with a fine Gallic flourish at Highbury yesterday.”

Wenger himself realised the importance of the win. Largely unknown outside England before his arrival at Arsenal, the Frenchman had no illusions about the importance of the game, and if he hadn’t, the players would certainly have let him know. “To be accepted here, it’s good for me to win the first derby,” he said.

Wenger’s first five league games had brought two wins, two draws and a defeat - giving little clue of the swashbuckling football soon to be served up to Arsenal fans on a regular basis. While he was yet to really impose his style on this team, here, at a raucous and rain-swept Highbury, was the evidence that Wenger had the players with the ability to play his way.

Arsenal went 1-0 up thanks to Ian Wright’s first half penalty, after Dennis Bergkamp was clumsily fouled by Clive Wilson. An unmarked Wright could have made it two, but uncharacteristically put a shot narrowly wide, after a great run and cross from Lee Dixon.

In the second half, things got spicy. Minutes after Patrick Vieira and Chris Armstrong were booked for a scuffle, Armstrong launched himself two-footed at Vieira. What would today be a clear red - for the intent alone - was not even a foul, according to referee David Elleray.  Moments later, a scruffy Andy Sinton shot found its way into the net via the post and Lukic.

The game ebbed and flowed with chances either end - the best falling to Wright, who again was off target with a couple of left-footed efforts. With a couple of minutes to go, a quick throw into the area found Dennis Bergkamp - who was having a wonderful match - and he beautifully flicked the ball up into the air for the oncoming Tony Adams. The captain hadn’t found the back of the net for a year, but loved to score against Spurs, and he unleashed a technically perfect left-foot volley into the far corner.

Just weeks before, in the aftermath of Euro 96, Adams had publicly admitted he was an alcoholic. He was now in the very early stages of feeling the twin benefits of Wenger’s philosophy and cleaner living. In his autobiography he described how he scored “on one of the ventures upfield I now felt I had been given license to attempt, not only by Arsene Wenger but also because I was feeling adventurous as a person and player.” Certainly Bould and Adams’ regular forays forward had been a feature of the match.
Victory was sealed in the dying seconds of the match with another special goal. Ian Wright looked to be seeing out the match with the ball near the corner flag, but dropped his shoulder and made a fool out of the hapless Clive Wilson before crossing towards Bergkamp at the far post. The Dutchman's first touch was sublime, and with his second touch he drove the ball across Ian Walker and into the back of the net - to the delight of the North Bank. It was one of those Bergkamp goals where you could sense what he wanted to do with the ball a microsecond before he made it a perfect reality.

Notably, Spurs’best player on the day was a young Sol Campbell, who generally handled Wright pretty well; something Wenger no doubt made a note of. This was Arsenal’s first home win against Spurs in five years and the Gunners finished the season in third place, behind Newcastle, and the champions Manchester United. Wenger though had laid the foundations for their glorious double the following season.

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