We arrived just in time to miss the worst of the rain and as we took up our seats behind the goal in row C it was one minute before kick off. We already knew, thanks to Marion's phone call, that Rob, Gilberto & Dennis had been left at home while Bentley, Parlour, Reyes and Ljungberg were in the starting line up. And I needn't have worried about the crap seats because we stood up for the entire game.
The surface was slick, slippery and very damp and any number of Arsenal players looked like they should have used a longer stud as falling over might well have cost us our unbeaten run. The team kicked towards the Intercash Stand, which was the crap one housing the Gooners. Some decent one-twos and some flash stuff from Henry boded well. Freddie had a half chance but was adjudged to have handled. Reyes lost a ball, something he did throughout the match, and on this occasion the lively LuaLua was away for a cross.
Bentley who tending to hug the touchline and was more threatening after the break, had a shot after Ray had won the ball via referee Mike Riley. Arsenal bossed the half with some slick moves but it wasn't one way traffic. A fine shot from Parlour was tipped away for a corner by Hislop. Lauren missed a tackle, Parlour slipped and Pompey were away for a lively attack. Good interplay between Lauren and Bentley on our right, but they, like pretty well everyone except Vieira, seemed to be very wide. A fast raid from LuaLua but his shot was wide.
Henry was fouled and Reyes took the free kick that cleared the bar and my outstretched hands. Henry and Reyes are not quite on the same wavelength yet and their communication is pretty well non-existent, but should they ever get their act together they will be a lethal pairing. The game was fast if not furious as Sol went on a charge down our left. Hughes upended Ray on a break. Bentley found Ray inside who shot over. Henry and Freddie combined to set up Reyes for a shot that went wide, this being one of our more clear cut chances of the half. Jens made a good catch from a cross but his kick was poor. Reyes as usual was good for chasing down the keeper but lost a lot of possession. Vieira and Henry progressed well with some great play before Henry's shot rebounded for a corner, which he took. Pat headed the corner wide, better contact would have seen us in the lead. Freddie and Stone had an accidental clash of heads that resulted in both players staying down in need of treatment.
Jens was getting the dodgy keeper treatment from the Pompey fans with choruses of 'One David Seaman' and 'You're getting sold in the summer' later chants of 'Eng-er-land' and the theme from the Dam Busters were studiously ignored by our man in orange. Bentley, Henry and Freddie combined to set up Jose who could only win a corner. Taylor headed the corner away for another. Reyes had a shot deflected off the top of the bar for another corner. With Arsenal pressing hard for the opener and looking to be well on top it all went pear shaped at the other end. Kolo didn't seem to know where the ball was as a long pass out bounced off him and on to Yakubu. Lehmann narrowed the angle but the shot looped up off Jens and remained goal-bound despite Sol's effort to clear off the line. 1-0 Pompey and their noisy fans became even noisier. A big up to the Portsmouth fans, if we've got to watch a match from a stand which offers all the facilities of a dilapidated bomb site at least doing it in the company of enthusiastic fans lessens the depressive antiquated feeling of such an outing.
Pires to Henry but Hislop pulled off a great save for another Arsenal corner. A succession of corners followed but the nearest we came was from a Vieira header that only glanced off his forehead for a goal kick. Parlour to Vieira, to Freddie in another 'almost' move. Another poor ball from Reyes to Henry. Freddie and Henry broke through but a great tackle from behind on Thierry saved the day for Pompey. Pat picked up a yellow card but it wasn't that sort of match really. Pompey had a decent chance for a second when a deep cross left to right went over Cole's head and was fired back across to the far post where it was headed wide. Late in the half Lehmann was out well to dive at feet and seemed to hurt his arm in the process. He came out for the second half looking fit enough but declined to entertain us with his usual forward rolls.
A scuffed shot from Portsmouth was the first chance after the break. This came about before a terrific shot from Thierry - it looked like a save from Shaka that came off both bar and post before a corner resulted, but it was difficult to tell from the other end of the ground. It was certainly very close to being an equaliser whatever happened. Henry had a cross from the left that was half cleared and Reyes was there to volley home our equaliser. 1-1 about five minutes in to the half.
A rare one-two between Henry and Reyes ended with a shot going over. Bentley left his man for dead with a fabulous turn and then Reyes found Henry who set up Freddie for a shot. Numerous of end of season games either peter out or never really get started but although we never hit top gear this was a competitive match and we had to compete. Hughes was very late on Lauren and then some fine build up play ended with Jose firing well over. Kanu replaced Bentley, so that was another tenth appearance sorted, Kanu’s appearance meant Freddie went right and Reyes went left. Henry to Freddie to Kanu who had his languid shot blocked for a corner. A collision between Kolo and Jens saw both of them injured and Toure ending up in a heap against the advertising hoardings, but they both eventually recovered after treatment.
Another good sweeping move saw Reyes find Henry who fired wide. Parlour was still very much involved, his enthusiasm and drive being as strong as ever. Jens was still being called upon to act as sweeper and did so admirably. Yakubu found himself in space clean through on goal with just Lehmann to beat, Lehmann slipped, recovered and blocked the shot when a goal looked certain. More than one Gooner thought that this move was going to be the end of our run. Shortly after Parlour took out Faye with a sliding foul that set up a free kick just outside our box and central. It was going top corner from Stefanovic’s left-footed curling free kick but Jens pulled off a blinding save.
Freddie had a poor shot, Sol blocked LuaLua’s effort and then Arsenal produced a strong period of possession play. Hughes fired over, Henry had a solo and Hughes headed well wide before the two added minutes saw Keown on for Reyes and Aliadiere on for Ljungberg and we ended honours even.
On a night when both Norwich and West Brom lost after having achieved their objectives for the season it can be seen that Arsenal are clearly having the same motivational problems. With only two games to go the astounding possibility of an unbeaten season remains however and only Fulham and Leicester stand in our way.
See you all at Fulham in Fancy Dress then? I predict at least one of the three Musketeers in the front row! And word is that Graham Poll is going dressed as a referee - could be a first if he pulls it off!