Wednesday, October 29, 2008

EPL Week 10 : Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur - Spurs Comeback Shocks GunnersWorl

An incredible night at the Emirates saw Aaron Lennon score in the 95th minute to give Tottenham Hotspur a draw, when few would have thought it possible, as Spurs came from two goals down to earn a 4-4 draw against their bitter rivals Arsenal.

Both sides had gone into this match knowing it would have a massive impact on their future as far as the season was concerned. Spurs needed to add to the points they'd picked up on Sunday to get out of the relegation battle, and Arsenal needed to win to keep their slim title hopes alive.

Harry Redknapp made two changes to the side who'd beaten a lacklustre Bolton on Sunday. In came Gareth Bale on the left side of midfield and Woodgate joined Vedran Corluka in the heart of Spurs defence as Ledley King's knee is still not capable of carrying him through three games in seven days.

Arsenal welcomed back Adebayor, after he put in a man-of-the-match performance in his 22 minutes against West Ham. Denilson also returned as Wenger fielded a familiar 4-4-2, as his charges went in search of the win.

Arsenal started brightly, pushing the ball around with ease, but Harry Redknapp's influence was already evident as Spurs closed down Arsenal all over the pitch. The way they worked hard off the ball really set them up as Arsenal found them difficult to probe in the early stages.

The first real chance of the game fell to Theo Walcott as he beat Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the edge of the box before firing wide. But Spurs were proving a much tougher prospect under Redknapp and for all of Arsenal's possession in the early stages they were reduced to shots from distance as they failed to penetrate the Spurs rear-guard.

Tom Huddlestone in midfield was enjoying the early head-to-head with Fabregas and his pinpoint passing gave him an early advantage. It was from one of these passes that Spurs would shock Arsenal and take the lead.

Huddlestone sought the hard working Pavyluchenko with a pass, but it was cut out. As the ball bobbled up in the centre of the pitch, ex-Arsenal player David Bentley controlled it on his chest superbly, and as the ball dropped he caught in with a right-footed volley from fully 43 yards and lobbed Manuel Almunia to score one of the goals of the season.

In scoring such a spectacular goal Bentley showed great skill, technique, vision and bravery. The goal will obviously be compared to Beckham's famous strike against Wimbledon. But whereas United led 4-0 at the time and the pressure was off, the players could try such spectacular efforts without consequence. Bentley's effort was in the white hot cauldron of a North London derby with the scores at 0-0, against his former club.

The vision and sheer bravery to attempt such an effort from a player who two games ago found himself surplus to requirements under ex-Spurs boss Juande Ramos, mark the goal out as one of the finest goals ever scored in this fixture.

For the rest of the half Arsenal tried to work the ball into wide areas, but Alan Hutton was in fine form on the right and Samir Nasri barely got a touch. On Arsenal's right Theo Walcott looked very dangerous and Spurs defended frantically every time he touched the ball.

With 10 minutes left until half-time, Bentley had the ball in midfield and as he turned on the ball he seemed to receive a push in the back from Clichy who gained possession as the Spurs man lay prone. He found Fabregas who cut in from the left and his far post shot was tipped around the post brilliantly—Gomes making amends for some early scares from Arsenal crosses where he dropped the ball more than once.

But he would be made pay for his poor decision-making under crosses, as he failed to get a punch on the resulting corner and Mikael Silvestre nipped in to head his first goal for Arsenal since his transfer from Manchester United.

As the half drew to a close Arsenal were gaining in confidence and Spurs seemed desperate for the referee to blow up for the break. Every Arsenal attack looked like it had a goal on the end of it.

Arsenal's domination was given birth in midfield, as Wenger swapped Denilson and Fabregas. Denilson was now employed as a man-marker on Huddlestone, in an effort to reduce the Spurs players influence. This simple change in tactic worked well as Arsenal dominated after Spurs scored.

But Spurs could be happy with themselves too. They had pushed and harried Arsenal in the early stages, and Harry would have been delighted for half-time to come as he would try to get some impetus back into his charges.

No changes at half time as both managers sent their teams out to restart the second half. Whether Spurs could keep their closing down game up was a question that would needed to be answered, sooner rather than later, as Arsenal started the half frantically.

Huddlestone gave away a silly free kick on the left hand side of the park with van Persie going nowhere. From the resulting free kick, William Gallas met the in swinging set piece with a brilliant header into the bottom corner to give Gomes, even at full stretch, no chance.

From the resulting tip off Spurs gave the ball away carelessly and their nerves looked to be getting the better of them in the early stages of the second half as Denilson forced Gomes to save. Another set-piece, another cross, and Silvestre went close again. Spurs were really suffering under Arsenal's set piece game.

The central partnership of Corluka and Woodgate looked all at sea, and none of the back four seemed to have any confidence in goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

On 55 minutes Redknapp could sense the game slipping away and Aaron Lennon made his way onto the pitch as Spurs chased the game. Pavyluchenko had been rendered anonymous by Gallas and Silvestre, and Redknapp needed someone on the pitch to support him from midfield. Lennon's introduction signalled the end of Walcott's influence as he drifted out of the match, as Lennon took him out of the game completely.

But Spurs real problems were in the middle of the park. Arsenal's four midfielders were over-running Spurs' five, as Clichy and Sagna pushed on in support. And discipline was leaving the Spurs team at an alarming rate as Bentley, Jenas, Assou-Ekotto, and Huddlestone all picked up yellow cards in quick succession.

With both sides settling into a stalemate, Robin van Persie picked up the ball in midfield and produced a pass of stunning quality that ripped the Spurs defence apart. Samir Nasri ran onto the ball and was clean through on Gomes. He lofted the ball over the 'keeper beautifully, and Adebayor finished as the ball crossed the line to give Arsenal a seemingly unassailable 3-1 lead.

But Spurs hit back immediately and as Modric tried to fashion a way past Silvestre the ball broke kindly to Huddlestone, who fired at Almunia with real venom. The Arsenal stopper was unable to hold onto the ball and Bent was the first to react as he smashed the ball home from close range to bring Spurs back into the match.

Arsenal tipped off aware that the next goal was of utmost importance, and Denilson launched the ball on top of Hutton. The Scottish international controlled the ball with ease and the whole park opened up to receive his pass. Instead he passed the ball back towards his goal without even looking, right into the path of Adebayor. The Togolese striker found van Persie in the box, and the Dutchman unleashed an unstoppable shot that gave Gomes no chance.

With Arsenal in the ascendancy they went looking for a fifth as Spurs put a damage limitation exercise into action. But both Adebayor and van Persie were in fantastic form and everytime they touched the ball you felt something was going to happen.

And Harry Redknapp threw in the towel, metaphorically speaking, as Chris Gunther made his first bow of the season at right full in place of the punch drunk Alan Hutton. The ex-Rangers player has been a rare ray of sunshine for Spurs this season and he was hardly Spurs' worst player on the night, but he made a massive error in giving the ball away and after Arsenal scored there was no way back for Spurs.

Arsenal, sensing this, relaxed a gear or two and failed to build on their lead. And in the 89th minute they paid the price for their relaxed mood as Jermaine Jenas scored another goal of the season contender, as he picked up the ball midway through the Arsenal half.

Dribbling unchallenged, he cut in from the right and produced a fantastic finish as he curled the ball into the top corner with his left foot to give Spurs an outside chance of gaining a point.

Injury time was frantic as Arsenal defended Spurs' set pieces well and surprisingly chased a fifth goal when running the game down seemed the logical approach. And they paid the price in the 95th minute, as a long clearance from Gomes found it's way to Modric, who controlled it and unleashed a thunderbolt shot that Almunia tipped onto the post and the on-rushing Aaron Lennon finished into an open net to give Spurs a 4-4 draw and a point that looked an impossible thought when Chris Gunther took to the pitch.

Wenger will be furious with the way his side snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. The upcoming match against Stoke now takes on a completely different aspect as dropped points will put severe pressure on his team if they consider themselves title challengers.

On the other side of North London, Harry will have much to ponder. The 4-5-1 system that worked so well against Bolton was utterly dismissed by a rampaging Arsenal team for the first 75 minutes.

But a managers primary job is "spin" and there is no better manager than Harry at making his players "believe". He will be able to turn the goals they conceded into set pieces they should have done better against and some poor defensive errors that can be ironed out while the way they fought back just showed how good they can be.

That Spurs never gave up even when facing an insurmountable task is surely a sign of the dressing room's backing for their new manager. At 4-2 Arsenal looked the more likely to score next, but Spurs hung on when better teams would have collapsed against the Gunners.

And with Spurs facing Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday, Redknapp will have to decide on which way to approach the game against Rafael Benitez's physically tough, tactically astute Premier League leaders.