Saturday, November 20, 2010

Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur: Lucky Number 69 As Spurs Come Back from the Dead

Spurs won away to Arsenal for the first time in 17 years as Harry Redknapp's flamboyant side fought back from 2-0 down at halftime to win 3-2. It was also the first time in 69 games that Tottenham won away from home against one of the top four teams.
Once again Rafael van der Vaart was the main instigator and scored from the penalty spot after Cesc Fabregas committed one of the worst errors of his career by handling the Dutchman's goal-bound free kick. Van der Vaart had earlier set up the on-form Gareth Bale to reduce the score line to 2-1, and with just five minutes to go his beautifully flighted free-kick was headed home by Younes Kaboul for the winning goal.

The two halves could not have been more contrasting as Arsenal dominated the first 45 minutes to such an extent that the Gunners should really have been home and dry before the interval.
This was a game destined for numerous goals. Eleven of the last 13 North London Derbies have had three or more goals, and given the frantic pace that Arsenal started the game at, it came as no surprise to see the Tottenham net bulging first.
Fabregas, ever so impressive since returning to the fold, lofted a superb ball in behind the static Spurs defence. Samir Nasri sprinted onto the ball like his life depended upon it.  After another piece of poor keeping by Heurelho Gomes, who should really have claimed the ball, the Frenchman took the ball around him to slot home from the tightest of angles.
As he sprinted away, the little Frenchman could not have been happier. Earlier this week a war of words broke out between him and William Gallas, so scoring against his old captain must have been a moment to remember.
The Gunners continued to pile on the pressure with Fabregas dominating midfield, and it was only a matter of time before a second goal was added.
Luka Modric and Jermaine Jenas were being dominated in every department, and it was almost impossible to see where a Tottenham attack would come from never mind a goal. With Tottenham's supply line being so dominated, the likes of Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale became mere on-lookers as Arsenal's midfield triumvirate dictated the ebb and flow of the game.
Marouane Chamakh added Arsenal’s second goal after a blindingly quick counter-attack.
Roman Pavlyuchenko back-flicked the ball to no one and the Gunners broke with such ferocity that Spurs were left literally running in quicksand.
From the right full position, the ball was moved to Nasri in midfield and found Arshavin out on the wing. The little Russian's perfect cross left Chamakh with a simple tap in and Arsenal was coasting.
The Moroccan should really have put the game beyond doubt, but a superb last ditch tackle by Kaboul kept the score line down.
Arsenal jogged down the tunnel to jubilant singing and chanting as the Emirates found its full voice.
Spurs were in a terrible state. Redknapp would have to make significant changes and surely Wilson Palacios would have to be introduced for the lacklustre Jenas.
Instead Redknapp brought on Jermaine Defoe for Aaron Lennon, as Spurs sent out the message that they would chase down the 2-0 margin rather than damage limitation exercises that would have undoubtedly happened if Palacios was brought on.
Within five minutes the game was alive.
Spurs went with three up front with Defoe out on the left, and all of a sudden Laurent Koscielny found himself being dragged all over the pitch. The diminutive Spurs striker beat his Arsenal foe to a header. Van der Vaart helped the ball onto the onrushing Gareth Bale, who scored yet another stunning goal to add to his growing highlight reel.
Out of absolutely nothing, Spurs had eked out a glimmer of hope.
If one thing can be said about this Tottenham side under Redknapp, it is that they do not know how to lie down. They have come back from behind more times than any other Premiership side this season, and with the wind in their sails they literally tore at Arsenal's fragile heart.
The Gunners continued to dominate possession, but Spurs players were dictating where the ball went, forcing Arsenal down channels to nowhere and back to their defence at every occasion. Spurs had blood in their nostrils and could smell the fear that was beginning to creep into the Gunners' game.
Modric found himself on the ball just outside the Arsenal penalty box and was needlessly bundled off the ball by Alex Song.
Van Der Vaart set the ball up to strike it at goal, but Cesc Fabregas handled the shot with Fabianski looking stranded. It was a ludicrous decision by the Arsenal captain, and the referee had little choice but to award a well deserved penalty to Spurs, which van der Vaart converted with ease.
Spurs was now in the ascendancy, and if one team was going to win this thrilling affair it was going to be them.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that football and sport builds character. It doesn't. It reveals character, and once again Arsenal was looking like wilting in the face of pressure.
An anonymous Chamakh was immediately pulled to the sideline by Wenger and replaced by Robin van Persie, as the Gunners boss looked to save a game that was frantically slipping away.
Fabregas and Nasri continued to probe with the Arsenal captain going close through a sublime curled effort that was tipped around the post by Gomes at full stretch.
Moments later, van der Vaart really should have added his second and Tottenham's third, but could only guide Peter Crouch's knockdown over the bar.
Koscielny had been looking jittery since Defoe took the pitch and has been underwhelming all season, so it was apt that his clumsy challenge on Bale gave way to the free kick that the winning goal came from.
Once again, van der Vaart stepped up when he needed to be counted, and sent a wonderful free kick that Younes Kaboul directed into the net to send the travelling Tottenham fans into raptures.
It was all that Harry Redknapp's team deserved after a thoroughly wonderful second half where they climbed the Arsenal mountain while the Gunners lost their nerve completely.
The result, Tottenham's first away win to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United since 1993 (69 games), was more than deserved. The game was as good as over after just 26 minutes, but the character that Redknapp and his team showed after halftime was nothing short of immense.
As the table sits, Spurs are just four points off the Gunners, who are considered challengers to Chelsea's crown. But the win for their rivals leaves Arsenal, once again, looking like they need to turn a corner.
At this rate they have turned so many corners in the last five years that they are literally going around in circles and moving nowhere.
Check book time in January...