Lauren was the unlikely hero as Arsenal returned to the top of the table with a 2-1 win over Spurs. The Cameroon defender netted the winning penalty four minutes from time.
Tim Hobbs reporting
Lauren was the unlikely hero as Arsenal returned to the top of the Premiership with a dramatic derby win over Tottenham.
The Cameroon international calmly slotted home an 86th-minute penalty to take the Gunners back above Manchester United in the tit-for-tat race for the title – but not without a scare.
Freddie Ljungberg’s opener had the Gunners cruising towards another three precious points, but when Tottenham were awarded an 81st-minute penalty of their own, Teddy Sheringham stepped up to seemingly swing the balance back to his former club United.
But five minutes later and facing two dropped points, Arsenal were awarded the second penalty of a nail-biting finale, and with Dennis Bergkamp off and the injured Thierry Henry happy to hand over the responsibility, it was Lauren who was cast in the unfamiliar role of match-winner.
The thrilling close was a far cry from the scrappy slog that had preceded it, and will provide plenty for the rival factions of north London to argue over until these two lock horns again next season.
There was no doubt Arsenal were the better side for the majority of the game and despite all the talk of the form book going out of the window on such occasions, it was here for all to read as the home side pressed, pegging back a Spurs side that lacked belief and offered very little going forward.
Bergkamp was the catalyst for everything positive Arsenal produced and the Dutchman’s deft touch and vision was always a problem for Tottenham, who let him drift deep to do most of his damage.
He had already sent Ljungberg clear with a delicious reverse pass only for Chris Perry to step in when, on 25 minutes he created the crucial opener. An exchange of passes with Henry saw him send the Swede away again, but this time Kasey Keller did well to parry the low effort.
But it was the briefest of respites, as Keller’s colleagues failed to clear the danger, allowing Edu to feed Bergkamp some 35 yards from goal on the left. A quick look up and a clever through ball gave Ljungberg a second bite of the cherry, and at full stretch, he nudged it across Keller and inside the far post.
Bergkamp then saw a bending effort pushed aside by Keller, while only a matter of inches prevented Ljungberg curling in a second after Perry had slipped on the edge of the box as SPurs enjoyed a rare bout of keep-ball.
But all the talk of north London derbies lacking passion was silenced as the game slowly came to life, helped by the usual litter of yellow cards – Patrick Vieira escaped a disastrous booking – and rash challenges that must accompany such local affairs.
In between all the scurrying and scrapping, Spurs slowly began to impose themselves and thought they had thrown a major spanner into the Highbury works nine minutes from time as Poyet and Seaman collided chasing a ball that was bouncing out of play.
Referee Mark Halsey somehow made a mess of pointing to the spot, but once the protests had died down, Sheringham slotted the kick to Seaman’s right and looked to have lived up to his promise of giving his old pals at United a helping hand towards another title.
LATE, LATE LAUREN HELPS GUNNERS OUT OF A SPOT
But the drama or controversial decisions were not over and within five minutes, Arsenal were celebrating a similarly generous decision at the other end. Substitute Kanu saw his drive blocked by Perry and as the ball bounced up in the box, Henry collapsed under the clearing challenge of Dean Richards.
Henry was left writhing in agony and again Halsey only added to the tension by again failing to let anyone other than himself know excatly where he was pointing and why. It turned out to be the penalty spot again and with Bergkamp now in the stands and Henry still limping, Lauren stepped up to take surely the biggest kick of the season.
It lacked power and was along the ground, but with Keller committed to going the other way, it rolled over the line, restored the lead and most importantly, returned Arsenal to the top of the table.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
His touches of genius shone out in the local scrap. May not be on the PFA’s shortlist, but has done as much as anyone to keep Arsenal’s title bid on the boil of late.
Arsenal: Seaman, Luzhny, Campbell, Adams, Lauren, Wiltord (Dixon 87), Vieira, Edu (Kanu 83), Ljungberg, Henry, Bergkamp (Parlour 72).
Subs Not Used: Keown, Wright.
Tottenham: Keller, King (Davies 45), Perry, Richards, Gardner, Anderton, Sherwood, Ziege (Etherington 78), Poyet, Sheringham, Iversen (Rebrov 53).
Subs Not Used: Thatcher, Herschfeld.
Booked: Poyet, Sheringham, Sherwood, Perry.
Ref: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)