By Richard Clarke
Arsenal have dropped their first Premiership points of the season but they are still top of the table.
Arsène Wenger's side shared the spoils with Portsmouth at Highbury on Saturday. The visitors had looked good for the lead given to them by Teddy Sheringham in the 26th minute when he stooped to nod home a cross from Steve Stone.
But Arsenal were back on level terms five minutes before the break. Robert Pires was fouled by Dejan Stefanovic in the area and Thierry Henry scored a twice-taken penalty from the spot.
The home side held the whip hand after the restart but could not breakthrough. Still, a draw was probably a fair result and, if Portsmouth continue this sort of form until May, that may not turn out to be a bad result.
Before kick-off, Wenger made his first unforced changes of the season. He had stuck with the same line-up for the first three games of the season and the fourth, last time out at Manchester City, saw Martin Keown come in for the suspended Sol Campbell.
Today, perhaps with Wednesday's Champions League opener in mind, he left Freddie Ljungberg and Sylvain Wiltord on the bench for Ray Parlour and Dennis Bergkamp. Gilberto, who only came back yesterday from international duty in Brazil, was omitted entirely and compatriot Edu came into midfield.
The sun shone brightly as the players strode out. Highbury was buzzing, it seems the fans had missed their team during the international break. The opening 15 minutes were cagey with neither side really testing the other's keeper. It was no surprise. Arsenal started the day top of the table with 12 points from 12. Portsmouth were third with eight from their first four games.
Parlour's fizzing shot from 25 yards out was the home team's first chance. It forced Portsmouth keeper Shaka Hislop to stretch but was always going over. Seven minutes later Yakubu sprinted clear of the Arsenal defence but shot tamely into the arms of Jens Lehmann when he should have done better. A let-off.
Portsmouth made up for the miss in the 26th minute. Stone worked his way to the right-hand byline and whipped in a fast, near-post cross that was met by the head of Sheringham.
Arsenal chased the game after the goal but in truth looked a little ragged. They were thrown a lifeline in the 38th minute when Pires fell under a challenge by Stefanovic.
Henry thumped the penalty to Hislop's right but referee Alan Wiley asked for the kick to be re-taken. The Frenchman obliged, this time smacking it to the keeper's left.
Vieira and Parlour threatened as Arsenal picked up the pace before the break. Bergkamp kept that up after the restart stinging Hislop's hands and nearly stabbing home after Arjan De Zeeuw's error. Edu then extended the keeper with a swerving free-kick and Vieira nodded wide from a corner.
However, Portsmouth were hardly spent. Yakubu fired wide twice in the opening five minutes, the second time after weaving past two Arsenal defenders.
Still, overall Arsenal had were exerting sustained pressure on Portsmouth for the first time in the game. Henry's downward header bounced up dangerously enough for Hislop to tip over. From the corner, Pires laid the ball off for Parlour who low shot was charged down.
Despite this, Arsenal were not breaking through. Perhaps it was that which prompted Wenger to put on Ljungberg and Wiltord for the final 16 minutes.
It geed up Arsenal. But centre back Toure missed the chance to crown his Arsenal.com Player of August award by spurning a simple chance with 10 minutes left. Cole crossed, Wiltord nodded back but the Ivory Coast international sidefooted wide.
Arsenal's other centre back, Campbell, fired a header over a minute or so later. Despite a frantic final few minutes they winner did not arrive.
|Berger shields from Vieira||Bergkamp tries a shot|
|Henry scores from the spot, at the second attempt||Thierry celebrates his strike|
|Edu takes the ball past Faye||Wiltord and De Zeeuw chase for possession|
|Portsmouth's Yakubu Ayegbini battles for the ball with Kolo Toure|
BUY THIS PICTURE
|Kolo Toure misses a late chance against Portsmouth|
BUY THIS PICTURE
© Arsenal Broadband Limited 2004