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Henry and Arsenal leave Spurs feeling sick

Ismail Vedat
May 16, 2013
It could only be Thierry Henry who stole the show © Getty Images
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Arsenal are a point ahead of Tottenham and in pole position to secure the fourth and remaining Champions League place heading into the final game of the season. Seven years ago, the roles were reversed as we go back to the last time the bitter North London rivals tussled for that coveted position.

There were two aims for Arsenal on a glorious day in May in 2006: finish above Tottenham, and ensure Highbury was given a fond farewell after 93 years by collecting one final victory.

For much of the campaign the Gunners had been below-par and witnessed Tottenham flourish under Martin Jol, whose side had occupied fourth since December. While Arsenal had booked their place in their first Champions League final, Spurs were intent on playing in Europe's elite club competition and were in control of fourth spot.

Tottenham required three points at West Ham to do just that. Arsenal were relying on the Hammers to do them a favour and beat Spurs, provided they overcame Wigan.

Arsenal and Tottenham could not be separated in the final North London derby at Highbury a couple of weeks earlier as Thierry Henry came off the bench to rescue a point for Arsene Wenger - a game he described as "the biggest of the season" and with "so much at stake for both teams".

There was controversy as Arsenal felt Spurs should have put the ball into touch when a couple of their players collided. Instead, the visitors went forward and scored through Robbie Keane under a chorus of boos around the stadium.

Never in the Wenger era had Tottenham finished above Arsenal, yet that feat was under threat as the Gunners had blown their opportunity to jump above Spurs in the derby.

"If Tottenham do finish above Arsenal then I will have to congratulate them because, apart from the incident two weeks ago, you'd have to say they've had a very good season," Wenger said in the build-up to the final game of the season.

Wenger's comments before were: "I don't believe Spurs are suddenly a better team than us if they finish fourth. I never feel one game is enough to make a great club."

Deep down the Frenchman knew the consequences of losing the race for fourth spot to Tottenham. If Spurs did claim that place, the only way for Wenger's men to be back in the Champions League the following season would be to win the competition in Paris against Barcelona in under a fortnight's time.

Jol was on course to guide Tottenham to a first finish above Arsenal since 1995, but reaching the Champions League was imperative to cap off the solid performances of his side.

"If you would have said at the start of the season, or maybe six months ago or even a month ago, that we would be fighting off Arsenal in the last match of the season then we would have taken it," Jol told the Daily Express. "But, for me, finishing above Arsenal brings me no satisfaction personally. The only satisfaction is ending up above a team with a bigger budget. I thought we would be fighting for fifth or sixth so we have done well."

The night before a significant day in the history of both Arsenal and Tottenham, the latter encountered a surprise problem before their encounter at West Ham. Staying at the Marriott Hotel in Canary Wharf, ten Spurs players were struck down with food poisoning - the legend has it that a lasagne was the culprit. Michael Carrick suffered the most out of the Tottenham contingent.

Postponing or delaying the match was considered, but with the final farewell celebrations planned at Highbury and West Ham ready for the match at Upton Park, Spurs had no choice but to go ahead with the game.

Yossi Benayoun broke Tottenham hearts © Getty Images
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Arsenal arrived to a sea of red and white on the Highbury terraces, knowing their fate was in the hands of West Ham in the east of London. No doubt someone on the Gunners bench was keeping tabs on events unfolding between West Ham and Tottenham.

Robert Pires gave Arsenal the start they craved, netting eight minutes in, and news filtered through that Spurs had fallen a goal behind.

Advantage Arsenal.

Wigan decided they were going to be the gate-crashers to the Highbury party, so within moments of Arsenal celebrating both theirs and West Ham's strikes, Paul Scharner popped up with an equaliser to silence the home crowd.

David Thompson then caught Jens Lehmann out with a long-range free-kick, and now it was Spurs in the driving seat and back into fourth 12 minutes before the break. Arsenal quickly responded through Henry, but Tottenham had levelled against West Ham and held the advantage once again.

A gift in the form of a short back pass was gratefully accepted by Henry in the second period as the Gunners' talisman slotted Arsenal back into the lead, and his penalty sealed a memorable Highbury hat-trick.

The image of the Frenchman kissing the turf in front of the famous North Bank stand will forever be an iconic one, and in the space of a minute he was fist-pumping as West Ham had taken the lead courtesy of Yossi Benayoun, meaning Arsenal were in fourth as the Champions League pendulum swung the Gunners' way.

The final whistle was blown at Highbury, and scenes of jubilation on the pitch and amongst the 38,500 capacity crowd were clear to see. At Upton Park, Tottenham players had their heads in their hands, and some were in tears in the dressing room following their slip-up.

Highbury was given a fitting send off © Getty Images
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The atmosphere at Highbury would have been a dampened one had Arsenal not finished above Spurs. However, Wenger delivered the goods and was given a microphone to begin the countdown along with the crowd as the Gunners waved goodbye to their home.

The future of Henry - the club's leading goalscorer - was still in doubt, but whether he stayed or decided to move on, he would never be forgotten on a fantastic farewell to the old ground. Tottenham were left with the consolation prize of a place in the UEFA Cup and, literally in some cases, a sickening end to their campaign.

What happened next?
Police probed Spurs' food poisoning incident, and later the Health Protection Agency ruled the misfortunes suffered by the players were not caused by the food at the hotel. Spoof pictures of Wenger as a chef presenting food spread across publications as well - much to Tottenham's misery.

For Arsenal, they were beaten in the Champions League final despite leading against Barcelona with 13 minutes to go. The Gunners were down to ten men after 20 minutes when Lehmann was dismissed for bringing down Samuel Eto'o, and it would be the Cameroon striker and Juliano Beletti with the comeback goals to break Arsenal hearts.

Henry - linked with Barcelona - days later signed a new deal at Arsenal, and the Gunners prepared for life post-Highbury with a move down the road to their new 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium.

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