Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday January 25 2007
All in all I got what I wanted from last night. A score draw and I escaped injury, a lot of travelling Gooners cannot say the same with regards to the latter. I know two people who were the victims of violence outside the turnstiles post game. I heard a Tottenham fan on the train telling his mate that the Seven Sister's Road was utter carnage and that he'd 'never seen that before at Tottenham.' I was absolutely burning to inform him of the constant misdameanours of his fellow 'supporters', but staying incognito is paramount for any Arsenal fan at the Lane.
The journey to the stadium is always a particularly tricky affair. Our route is meticulously pre planned so as to appear natural, as if we do the journey every week. On the train from Tottenham Hale to Northumberland Park, one has to observe strict decorum. Being careful not to converse about the game too in depth for fear of reverting to type and referring to Arsenal as 'we', as is second nature. I had even strategically opted to wear a white shirt and navy tie to work that day. The walk around the sloping estates from Northumberland Park to the stadium is always decidedly cumbersome. Trying hard not to strut or look too cocksure for fear of being identified, equally trying not to let the intimidation manifest onto your features when you hear the distant cries of 'Yid Army' followed by, what Paul Weller lovingly described as, 'the rumble of boots.' Negotiating the gradual leaning towards the South Stand away turnstiles is also a tricky affair. Trying to strike the balance between getting into the away section swiftly and not making a beeline for it too soon is another militant operation. 'Who, who, who let they Yids in' comes the cry as you line up to be searched, your cover blown, yet protected by the smorgasboard of stewards and police.
If there are any Tottenham fans reading this, and I've no doubt there are, THIS is why you will not receive 9,000 tickets next week. The slavenly behaviour of a select few EVERY TIME Arsenal travel to White Hart Lane is the reason the Police deem it unsafe to have 9,000 of you at Ashburton Grove. Anyhow, we arrived in the ground safely, relieved that the tension would be alleviated for the next couple of hours until we faced the real gauntlet of hate after the game. Tottenham began the game the quicker, as they always do in this fixture. In four of the last five seasons, Tottenham have scored the first goal at White Hart Lane, therefore it is with some surprise that I heard Wenger express his surprise post match. Tottenham got Lennon and Malbranque on the ball with impunity. Traore, indeed the whole Arsenal defence, seemed unable to stop the electric pace of the sparkling Lennon. He twisted and taunted the Gunners backline whose only answer seemed to be to take him down at every opportunity. Malbranque took the ball in field and looked to link up with Defoe, while Dawson's long balls to Berbatov caused us all sorts of problems. Berbatov should have given Tottenham an early lead after a swift one two with Defoe, he turned Toure inside out but his low half volley clipped the outside of the post.
The young Gunners seemed to be reeling under the pressure and in the hostile atmosphere, and just as the Arsenal faithful let rip with their first rendition of 'Rocky Rocastle', a Lennon cross saw Almunia tell Toure to leave it, but strangely the Spaniard made no move towards the ball and Berbatov was left with a free header. Tottenham continued to take control of the game, getting at our shaky backline with alacrity, Berbatov and Lennon caused mass panic as clearances were sliced and challenges were clumsy. The Spuds were soon 2-0 up, as Toure was very harshly penalised for a foul on Defoe (I think?). That said, we should have defended the free kick better, Dawson jumped over Huddlestone's low drive and it deflected in off the dumbfounded Julio Baptista. At this point, I would have taken the final whistle, we were ripe for the taking.
Yet despite our defensive fragility (it's a word, alright), we always looked dangerous going forward. Denilson's tackling and distribution were faultless, while Cesc's link up play with the sharp Aliadiere looked like it could bear fruit. The problem was, I could not see us restricting Tottenham to two. The injury to Berbatov seemed to disrupt Tottenham's gameplan. Then a glorious chance went begging in first half stoppage time, a Fabregas free kick flew to the back post, only for Baptista's shot to hit the back of his standing leg and come out. At the other end the ball had been only too happy to ricochet off his back leg and go in, it looked like one of those nights.
'2-0 to the England sang the ignorant Spurs faithful', 'easy, easy, easy' they taunted at the half time whistle. I do not understand what it will take for them to learn not to gloat so early into the game/season/pre match meal. The Gascoigne free kick from 1991 was replayed no more than SIX times during pre match and the interval. At least on this occasion, they stopped short of announcing Cup Final ticket details over the tannoy a la 1987. Though, unfotunately, some Tottenham fans did manage to break their way through the gate into the Arsenal section of the upper tier at half time and attacked unsuspecting Gooners enjoying a much needed half time pint. Why can't they have 9,000 tickets again? The second half itself was a different story altogether. Lead by Fabregas, who constantly cajouled and inspired the troops, the young Gunners, buoyed by Wenger's words of belief, went for the jugular. Denilson imposed himself on the game, Hoyte overlapped Walcott more often. Walcott looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights in the first half, but got at the suspect Assou Ekotto in the second half.
The Gunners needed a catalyst to reward their industry, Fabregas pulled the strings to the point that I cannot remember a contribution of any kind from Zokora or Huddlestone in the second period. The twin introductions of Eboue and Hleb gave us greater impetus on the flanks, with Fabregas and the tigerish Denilson already dominating affairs centrally. Just after the hour, the Gunners got their precious away goal. Baptista, who had pushed further up the pitch, desperate to make amends, played an intricate one two in the box with Walcott, at first his reception of the ball was halted by Dawson, but the Beast muscled his way to his feet, recollected the ball and tucked it past Fatty Foulkes. Game on!
Arsenal pushed forwards and an equaliser seemed inevitable. Though we were left open to the counter attack, Almunia thrusting out a limb to deny Keane. Why Tottenham seemed so loathe to use Lennon on the counter I've no idea, a third was there if they wanted it, but they did not. Tough luck, because with confidence infused into youthful limbs the Gunners got their equaliser. Fabregas, Tottenham's arch taunter, played in Hoyte down the right and England's patheitc excuse of a goalie gave us our equaliser. Somebody must have told him the ball was laced with sugary treats as he toddled out after it, miles from shore. He made the goal very easy, as Hoyte's low cross found Baptista, ravenously feeding on Tottenham's prone corpse in front of an open goal. Does that count as a hat trick? At half time myself and John spoke of how much we would love a Robinson cock up, so that we might taunt the Spurs fans with an ironic chant of 'England's number one.' Of course tubby obliged and I'm sure you heard the refrain ring around the Lane.
Arsenal appeared the more likely, but injuries to Eboue and Hleb appeared to handicap us slightly. However, Walcott had a glorious chance to wrap it up as Hoyte's flat right wing cross found him unmarked at the back post, but he pulled his volley wide with Robinson heard to whisper, 'mmmm....donuts!' The final whistle sounded and it was time to run the gauntlet. The familiar sound of broken glass and bodies tumbling to concrete could be heard. We managed to slip out towards Northumberland Road unnoticed, betwixt the massed ranks of hooded Spurs 'fans', scarves wrapped up around their faces, their eyes searing you with hate. The familiar whispers of 'Oi Gooner' were heard up and down the Seven Sister's Raod, the sophisticated idea of which revolves around clobbering anybody who looks around. Fortunately, I've been around that particular block enough times to know not to react. The stony poker face of a man who has seen his team pathetically crumble was etched onto my face. Myself and Mike even began to have a little fun with it, adopting the slanting posture and and breathy complaints of any Tottenham fan, 'I can't believe that fat **** Robinson gifted them a goal' and 'let's face it, we're never gonna win at the Emirates are we?' I almost blew my cover when Mike remarked, 'Mido looks fatter and fatter every time I see him' whilst we were surrounded by the Tottenham unfaithful.
Our sense of mischief was soon removed when we received text messages from friends, revealing that they had 'been done' by Spurs hooligans, or caught a random flailing fist from another piece of human garbage. It really is pathetic, I am all for rivalry, but how on earth is beating the living sh*t out of someone supposed to prove anything? What are we to do? Is a good kicking supposed to all of a sudden enlighten me to the error of my ways and become a paid up Spud? Over on the Tottenham forum, you might care to take a look at a remark 'woddywoo' made when I informed him of my friend's misfortune, 'shame your friend didn't break his neck IMO.' It's there, go and see it if you want. Anyways, we have given ourselves a good chance to go through, but this is by no means over. If Tottenham can prevent us from scoring until the last twenty minutes, things could get very nervous. Remind me why Tottenham have not been permitted 9,000 tickets again? LD.
Date:Thursday January 25 2007
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