Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs shattered by five-star Gunners
The AL Report
By now you will have pored over every match report, watched Match of the Day on a loop and no doubt thoroughly enjoyed abusing every passing acquaintance with an affinity for the Spurs. With that in mind, the normal report doesn’t feel appropriate, so here are some general impressions of a very special day:
On the pre-match build-up
Billed as the most important North London Derby of Arsene Wenger’s reign, the assembled hacks had been sharpening their pens to write the obituary of his career before the game, gleefully proclaiming a so-called ‘shift in power’ between the two clubs. Spurs may yet finish above us for the first time since 1995, but before getting carried away, they may want to try doing it for fifteen years in a row.
Despite our recent woes, the mood of despair that had accompanied our cup defeats was strangely absent around the ground before kick-off. The unseasonably warm weather may have had something to do with it, but there was an almost festive atmosphere in the streets and pubs of N5.
On the team selection
The big surprise was the inclusion of Yossi Benayoun on the left side of attack, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho having to settle for a place on the bench. Elsewhere, we had the luxury of having our two first choice full-backs available and even had another one to spare as Carl Jenkinson was back in the squad for the first time since November.
On going 2-0 down
We were badly caught out for the first goal. Emmanuel Adebayor’s pass to Louis Saha was decent, but it shouldn’t have taken half the defence out of the game. The way his shot cannoned off Thomas Vermaelen and looped over the flailing Wojciech Szczesny only added to its farcical nature.
We refused to let this disastrous start knock us off our stride and strung together a few dangerous attacks. Robin van Persie fired a couple of shots wide, whilst Brad Friedel did well to tip Tomas Rosicky’s header over the bar.
Tottenham’s second goal came against the run of play and felt like a real kick in the guts. Even in real time, it was clear that Szczesny made no contact with Gareth Bale and that the Welshman had won another penalty through a blatant piece of cheating. For a few tantalising moments, it appeared that Mike Dean might reverse his decision after consulting his assistant, but it wasn’t to be. Up stepped Emmanuel Adebayor to double their lead and leave us with a mountain to climb. I couldn’t even look at the pitch for a couple of minutes, such was my disgust.
On a swift comeback
The five minutes between Adebayor’s penalty and Bacary Sagna’s header were very dark indeed. All sorts of horrible images were flashing through my mind – I dreaded the crowd’s reaction if the scoreline were to get any worse. I imagined the vitriolic abuse that Wenger would receive and I feared that there would be no way back for him if we were to suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of our hated rivals.
Thankfully the players discovered a spirit and refusal to be beaten that had been missing in Milan and Sunderland. Van Persie hit the post and the ball eventually came out to Arteta on the left. His floated cross was met by Sagna, who stretched every sinew in his body to power home a bullet header. All of a sudden, despair turned into hope – why should we meekly accept our cocky neighbours walking all over us in our own back yard?
Van Persie’s equaliser was a moment that will be forever etched in the memories of those who witnessed it. Picking up a weak headed clearance from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, he suddenly had a sight of goal and unleashed a beautiful curled effort into the top corner. It was a Bergkampesque goal from a man who yet attain the legendary status his compatriot enjoys. It sparked wild scenes in the stadium – an almost primal roar of relief, which caused me to strain vocal chords and muscles I never knew I had. The team may not have wanted the half to end, but I was grateful for a chance to get my breath back.
On Tomas Rosicky
Harry Redknapp attempted to tighten things up by introducing Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart, but his plans were quickly in tatters thanks to Rosicky. His neat lay-off to Sagna was followed by a lung-busting run into the box to clip it past Friedel at the near post. It crowned a man-of-the-match display by the Czech who put in one of his finest performances in an Arsenal shirt. He was simply magnificent yesterday, driving forward, snapping into tackles and launching attacks with incisive passes. Since joining us six years ago, his career has been blighted by injury and indifferent form, but yesterday we saw the player who lit up the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
On Theo Walcott
I have to congratulate the journalists for managing to put a negative spin on the day by complaining about the ‘abuse’ Walcott received during a woeful first-half performance. From the North Bank, all I could hear were entirely understandable groans of frustration whenever he misplaced a pass or ran down a blind alley. Nobody would have batted an eyelid had he been substituted him at half-time, but leaving him on was an inspired decision among many Wenger made yesterday.
For the first goal, he may have taken a heavy second touch, but his dinked finish was sublime. Composure is not normally a word you would associate with Theo, but he suddenly found it at just the right time. The second goal was all about precision, carefully timing his run, controlling it and placing it in one brilliant, fluid movement. As others have said, nobody epitomised the transformation in our fortunes more than him. When he shows what he is capable of, it makes you realise why the boss persists with him when many fans would have shown him the door long ago.
The Final Word
When we beat Barcelona last season, I was convinced that it would be a long time before we would witness a similar spectacle and atmosphere again. Yesterday’s remarkable match completely blew that out of the water.
In the moments after Adebayor put Spurs two up, we collectively stared into the abyss, but the hour that followed was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had in 22 years of going to football. It was more than just a case of beating the old enemy; it was about regaining our self-esteem as a football club; about putting all the divisions and in-fighting to one side and rediscovering what it means to wear that famous cannon on our chests.
This season has tested the faith more than any other in a generation, but yesterday’s game was a timely reminder of what Arsenal Football Club is all about. The challenge now is to build on this – starting with Saturday’s trip to Anfield. Our sights should now be set on finishing above Spurs and not merely settling for fourth spot. Then we need to restore some pride in Europe and show the world that our capitulation in the San Siro was just a one-off.
Silverware may have to wait for another year, but yesterday we won something even more precious than a trophy: our pride.
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2011-12 | Match Reports