Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Redknapp's Gamble Comes Off As Spurs End Arsenal's Season with 2-1 Win Over North London Rivals
Arsenal's title challenge was ended at White Hart Lane tonight as a superb Tottenham Hotspur side beat the Gunners 2-1. A wonder goal from Danny Rose and a slide rule finish by Gareth Bale were enough for Spurs with Niklas Bendtner scoring an 85th minute consolation goal that was a real case of two little too late for Arsene Wenger's side.
With the two teams both coming off the back of devastating defeats within the last week the opening 15 minutes were always going to be key.
Arsenal were thoroughly brushed aside and embarrassed by Barcelona in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League while Spurs suffered an equally demoralising defeat at the hands of Portsmouth in the FA Cup Semi Finals.
Having a longer break, Arsenal were the fresher side, but it was Spurs who set the early tempo. As in every North London Derby, the play was fractious, every tackle was merciless, and the game moved at 100 miles an hour.
The Gunners almost took the lead in the first minute through the returning Sol Campbell, whose every touch was booed, after he latched onto Samir Nasri's corner with his knee but Heurelho Gomes was equal to the effort.
The pace was being set by the home side who closed down every Arsenal player whenever they even came near to the ball. Harry Redknapp taking a leaf from Pep Guardiola's coaching manual of closing down as high up the pitch as possible.
Tottenham began to get on top and forced a succession of corners, all taken with supreme venom by Gareth Bale, his vicious whipped crosses caused all kinds of problems in the heart of the Arsenal defence.
One of his inswingers forced Manuel Almunia off his line and the Spanish 'keeper did brilliantly to meet the ball with a fist to clear.
However, Broadway Danny Rose, making his first appearance of the season met the clearance with a volley of incredible beauty and the ball tore into the Arsenal net past the despairing Almunia to give Spurs a much deserved lead. It was a wonder-goal that comes but once a season, similar to David Bentley's famous effort against the same opposition last year.
This match is always one of the Premier Leagues jewels of the season and it has been many a year since both side had so much on the line. Arsenal's feint title hopes were dependant upon a win, while Tottenham's outside chance of making it into fourth place was in threat of becoming another let down in a season that had threatened to be so successful only two days before.
However, it was Spurs who looked the fresher side and they pushed Arsenal away from any area of danger through brilliant high tempo defending and closing down.
One of Arsenal's biggest criticism's this season is their penchant to overplay the ball, and they were guilty of the same crime on more than one occasion tonight.
Ledley King, making his return to the Spurs lineup for the first time since the middle of February was immense as he marshaled his back four superbly in the first half. How his lack of fitness was going to tell in the second half when Robin van Persie would make his expected entrance would be anyones guess.
But while he was at his best the Gunners were powder-puff up front and lacked any sort of cutting edge.
Arsenal on the other hand lost their best defender, Thomas Vermaelen through injury and all of a sudden the Gunners two central defenders were Mikael Silvestre and Sol Campbell, neither the greatest of defenders at this late stage of their career or endowed with any kind of pace.
Rose made way for ex-Arsenal youth David Bentley as the second half got under way. The game following the same pattern as the first as Spurs closed down the Gunners at every chance.
Barely a minute into the second period and the excellent Gareth Bale added Tottenham's second goal of the game with a cool finish into the bottom right hand corner of the goal after Jermain Defoe had put him through.
Arsenal's title chances were gone unless Arsene Wenger made immediate changes and Theo Walcott made his way onto the pitch in place of the anonymous Bacary Sagna.
His first action of the game was to cross tamely as David Bentley cleared.
The game moved towards the hour mark, with Spurs still enjoying their deserved two goal lead. Roman Pavlyuchenko and Defoe provided the out-balls for Tottenham time and time again and Walcott's introduction was negligible at best, much like the rest of the Arsenal team.
Amazingly, the Gunners had yet to force Gomes into a save, such was Spurs superb defence.
Jermain Defoe made way for Eidur Gudjohnsen as Spurs went 4-5-1 leaving Pavlyuchenko to force the tempo as the lone striker. At the same time Robin van Persie made his much anticipated entrance, the Dutchman having 20 minutes to save the Gunners' season.
He was struggling to get the ball though as the quite brilliant Luka Modric was dictating the ebb and flow of the game despite Samir Nasri enjoying far more possession. Time and time again the Gunners build up was too slow and the little Frenchman was the main culprit, always needing to make an extra pass where swift penetration was needed.
His choice of passes were questionable throughout the entire night, and if the ball did not seem to pass through the eye of a needle he was not happy with a simple out. The Gunners had just far too many similar type players in midfield and badly missed the influential Cesc Fabregas.
With ten minutes to go Heurelho Gomes was forced to make his first real save of the game when he reacted brilliantly to van Persie's superb scissors kick after he had controlled the ball with his chest. From the resulting corner Tomas Rosicky fired at goal but a severe deflection took the ball wide.
Arsenal finally beginning to look like title challengers.
Gomes was forced into action moments later as he saved brilliantly yet again from van Persie.
Spurs' goal was living a charmed life as Arsenal finally kicked into life and with only five minutes to go Niklas Bendtner forced the ball home from Theo Walcott's cross after van Persie put the winger into space.
A quick break from Pavlyuchenko could have wrapped the game up as his through ball found Modric in the centre of the Arsenal 18 yard box but a brilliant intervention by Sol Campbell forced the little Croatian to fire wide.
Campbell and King were both superb as they stifled the oppositions attacks and it is a crime of time that the two players never got the chance to partner each other in the same team.
As the game moved into time added on Arsenal were striving for a goal that would leave their title tilt still breathing while Spurs reached for the crash cart and tried to force an extra ounce of energy into their sapped legs.
The Gunners were to have no reprieve though as Spurs saw the game out with a superb defensive display that was built on the foundation of Ledley King and Michael Dawson.
The match was a real case of one manager who gambled on a key players fitness, King, and one manager who took the game for granted and refused to gamble on his key player, van Persie.
Spurs were by far and away the better side until the Dutchman was introduced to the party and his influence was there for all to see.
When push came to shove Harry Redknapp recognised that this match was a make or break game and gambled on it, there was no point in worrying about Chelsea on Saturday if his team did not take full points from Arsenal.
While Arsene Wenger thought the result was a foregone conclusion. Leaving his beat available player on the bench in preparation for the trip to Wigan on Saturday which has been made meaningless by this defeat.
Arsenal's season is over.
Spurs, Manchester City, and Liverpool will now battle it out for the right to finish fourth, and this win against all the odds has set up a great end to the season for the white and blue half of North London.