In the end, they did it. After 38 games and a...
The Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham: Mind THAT gap.
After that shambles of a week, after being completely demolished both on the pitch and off it, every Gooner feared the worst for the rest of the season. We know this whole routine of going out of every competition in quick succession is now an annual tradition. What we could hope for this season, is that we played in a relatively small game against a Wigan or a Blackburn, and slowly get back to some type of form, with a couple of ugly wins, simply to stop the rot. From small acorns and all that.
But today wasn’t small acorns. No, it was the damn biggest acorns you’ve ever seen in your life. 5-2 against the scum, after being 2 down. Absolute perfection; just pure, unbridled joy. With all the crap we’ve taken this season from both their scumbag fans and the media, they deserved this. “The balance of power has shifted”. No it hasn’t. North London is RED.
I could write a book on why that is the case, but for the purposes of not driving myself into a fit of rage and screaming obscenities, I’ll just stick to this game. The team selection was brave, and had it gone wrong, would’ve induced 57,000 people into ‘voicing their discontent’, albeit in a furious manner. The Ox was on the bench, with Yossi Benayoun taking his place in the starting XI. Rosicky managed to retain his place ahead of Ramsey, whilst elsewhere on the pitch it was as you’d expect.
The match really couldn’t have begun any worse, with a typical kind of goal that we concede. We completely let Spurs overrun us in the opening exchanges and it looked as if they were about to run riot (pun definitely intended), with the smug faces of the tabloid papers crowing with glee, at the thought of Arry’s boys thrashing us. The defence was completely ripped apart with a single ball, and Saha managed to divert it into the net, while up against two defenders. It ricocheted off Vermaelen and looped over Szczesny, who like many times previously was left hopelessly attempting to claw the ball out of the net, wishing he could actually play with a competent group of defenders.
And that was the most worrying aspect – this was our first choice backline. They’re all excellent players, but looked unbelievably vulnerable to the simplest of movements. Is it because they’ve hardly ever played together? Probably. But this just wasn’t good enough – they should at least have some level of understanding and communication from the training field. Spurs continued to dominate with verve and cut us open at will. Through balls and counter attacks were the order of the day, with The Arsenal unable to cope.
It went from bad to worse 10 minutes before the interval, with a huge sense of injustice attached. ‘The greatest player in the history of the world ever’ went on a marauding run through the heart of our defence, before realising he couldn’t score, so dived. Ludicrously, the referee (and his assistant) bought it, and it was looking as though we could be down to 10 men. Oh wait, but British players never dive, right? It’s one of those horrible things that only foreigners do, right? Bale is the beacon of all that is good in British football, right?
It was never a penalty, but I guess with Dean in charge, we should just count our lucky stars Szczesny didn’t see red for it. Our mate Adebayor stepped up to take the penalty, of course, and converted it. A nice moment for the birthday boy; you couldn’t help but be happy for him as he’s such a nice guy. Perhaps they didn’t deserve the penalty, but they probably deserved a 2 goal lead. We had a couple of chances, but nothing compared to their onslaught of forward forays.
That second goal sparked something though – as Arsene might say, the handbrake was off. We played with a little more panache and had some nice interchanges of passing play, it was more like The Arsenal of old. Just as we were getting back into the game, Theo Walcott had a glorious chance. The ball fell in front of him, the perfect opportunity for him to utilise his pace. Just as he got beyond the back four though, he passed it to RVP on the edge of the area – Theo’s decision making yet again coming into question. Had he gone on, it could’ve been a goal. Instead, it ended up with Robin attempting to take on 4 defenders in the space of 5 yards.
Nonetheless, we got our game together and came back with a vengeance – the unlikeliest of scorers providing us with a foothold in the game. It all came from a sumptuous flick from the below par Walcott to Van Persie, one of the few bright sparks of the first period. He hit the post with his effort, but instead of letting our heads drop, Arteta got a lovely ball into the area, where Sagna produced a brilliant header. He showed the desire to get in the box and beat the defenders and the keeper with a powerful nod, his first goal at home (in competitive matches at least – I witnessed him scoring a fine volley in the Emirates Cup a few years back).
From then on, we were phenomenal, which come to think of it, is exactly the right word for the equaliser. A poor clearance from Benoit Assuo-Ekotto landed at the feet of our skipper, who had plenty to do, still outside the area. Like he always seems to do so effectively, he managed to work those couple of yards for himself; those vital couple of yards that are just enough to get a shot away. And what a shot it was – a sublime finish that curled past Friedel, with some aplomb. It was an electric shot, full of ferocity and the feeling when it rippled the net was something special.
Arguably, we were good value for the draw at the break, but with our mental state and current form, I viewed it more as a mini-miracle. We were in the ascendency though, so I was hopeful that maybe we could pull a win out of the bag. I expected to see another extremely nervy half, with goals for both sides and little bit of luck to decide it. What followed however, was pure elation.
We came out of the blocks flying, crisp passing and rampant forward play to completely take control of proceedings. Their half-time substitutions (Sandro and Van der Vaart) did indeed work out to be game changers, but not in the manner they had anticipated. Five minutes into the half, Rosicky and Sagna completed a lovely one-two to round off a passing move and score a crucial goal. The Czech playmaker was at his best today, running the game at times and rounding off his performance with a beautiful finish to take us ahead.
As if the shock of Rozza scoring his first Premier League goal in over 2 years wasn’t enough, Theo, who hasn’t scored at home since 2010 (and was having a terrible game), managed to get on the scoresheet. We could hardly believe our eyes. Contrary to the first half, The Arsenal were now lethal on the counter rather than Spurs, with this 4th goal a consequence of Bale being dispossessed in our box.
Two wonderful passes later, the ball was with Robin, who did well up against two defenders. He bided his time, kept his composure and waited for Theo to make the surging run, before putting it on a plate for the young Englishman. Walcott almost messed it up by accidently kneeing it forward, but managed to delicately dink it over the keeper to give us a 2 goal advantage.
This was still with 25 minutes remaining though, so I had the feeling we would capitulate and allow them back in it. That’s what this team has done to me. We’re two goals ahead at home, in the 2nd half, and I’m still a jittery wreck overcome by nerves. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest to see us lose 5-4. Until the next goal came.
Just 3 minutes later, Songaldinho (who had a pretty quiet game) put through an awesome lobbed pass to Theo, who to his credit, kept his cool and slotted home nicely. 5-2, game over. After that, we took our foot off the gas and simply played out the game, mainly thanks to experienced heads like Rosicky, Benayoun and Van Persie.
Those three were quality today, retaining the ball well and pushing forward when the opportunity arose. Having the dynamism from players like Gervinho and Ramsey is great, but to win a game like this, there’s no substitute for experience and composure. The boss got the selection spot on today.
In the latter stages, Carl Jenkinson made his return to action, which was obviously great to see. Apart from an astonishing dribble from RVP, where he was stumbling and yet still had the technique to waltz past 5 Spurs players, there wasn’t really much to speak of in the dying embers. Just a thoroughly professional finish. Although, it would’ve been good to see us have a little more killer instinct and gone for more goals once we smelled blood – similar to the Blackburn game.
In my opinion, the North London Derby is cemented as the most entertaining game in the English football calendar. The style of play (and complete lack of defending) from both sides, along with the rivalry, mean its ahead of even Liverpool-United nowadays. Some of the scorelines from the past few years are mind-blowing: 5-2, 3-3, 4-4, 2-3, 5-1, 4-5, 1-4 and many more.
To wrap up, here is what Arsene had to say following the game:
“Arsenal are alive more than anybody thought before the game. Today we gave a performance that on the spirit side, the technical side, the drive of the whole team, on the style of the game we want to play everything was perfect despite a very bad start. I felt in the first five minutes Tottenham started well, after that it was all us for 85 minutes.
We were always on top of the game. We were 2-0 down but refused to lose the game and kept going no matter what happened. Once we were back to 2-2 you could see that if we maintained the pace, we would win the game. We had a good balance between offence and defence, between creativity and going into the space behind the defenders and good maturity.
We had a great spirit. I must say the way we want to play football depends on the pitch and this was the first time in three games that we played on a football pitch that is really a football pitch. That helps as well.
The crowd was starting to get on his [Theo’s] back and you wonder if [it won’t] do him a favour by leaving him on. But I felt that he has the qualities that, considering the rest of the team, are highly needed. He is a player who can be straight and go behind the defenders – nobody else is like that. He is a very direct player, he can sometimes miss a first touch but considering the balance of the team I thought it was important to keep him in the side.
It is still possible [to finish above Spurs]. I felt even before the game that it was possible if we keep our consistency. Everyone in the Premier League can lose points. They have a difficult schedule, and we have a difficult schedule, but if we continue to play like that, why not?
Unfortunately we had some bad news for Rosicky today, and Vermaelen as well. Vermaelen has an ankle problem, and Rosicky a back problem. I don’t think they will be available for Wednesday, whether they are available for Saturday is a big doubt.”
Szczesny – 6
Gibbs – 7
Vermaelen – 6
Koscielny – 7
Sagna – 8
Song – 6
Arteta – 7
Rosicky – 10
Benayoun – 9
Walcott – 7
Van Persie – 9
Jenkinson – 6
Chamberlain – 5
Gervinho – N/A
So then, on to Carling Cup winners Liverpool next weekend. Hopefully they’ll be knackered from their exertions today and we’ll be able to pass them off the park. In between though, there’s the issue of international friendlies. I don’t even want to speak about them – I’m just going to close myself off to football coverage, pray, and then see who turns up fit on Saturday.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking; there hasn’t been enough laughing or Spurs bashing in this post. I realise that, and there’s a reason. Let’s wait to see what happens this season and then in the summer, when there’s some downtime, I’ll write up a rant on exactly how big the ‘gap’ is. The wheels are just beginning to fall off that clown car, so I’m sure after this season of ridiculous hype, I’ll love even more than usual to convey my thoughts on the “title contenders”…