Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 23 2007
In the aftermath of Arsenal's comfortable 3-0 victory over Tottenham at the Grove last season, goalscorer and man of the match Emmanuel Adebayor revealed in an interview, 'Pat Rice said to me before the game, 'if you want these fans to love you, score against Spurs.' It was obviously a message the Togonator took very much to heart and one can't help but wonder if Rice was whittering in the ears of Manuel Almunia and Nicklas Bendtner pre match. Whilst Almunia's tenure as Arsenal's number 1 has been solid so far, he still has yet to convince many. Whilst Bendtner has earned himself more and more minutes in an Arsenal shirt, yet, astoundingly there are those out there that doubt his temperament. Personally, I don't mind arrogance if you've got the goods to back it up. Nicky is young, egotistical but inestimably talented, in fact, he reminds me of me! (I'm better looking mind).
Following yesterday's match, the aforementioned have earned themselves some breathing space. The match began with Tottenham set up to be compact and difficult to break down, with Jamie O'Hara assigned to marshall Fabregas. He did it brilliantly, winning possession back on countless occasions before distributing economically. I saw O'Hara play for Millwall earlier in the season and he didn't look that special in truth, but if he can maintain his current form Tottenham might have a real player on their hands. Fabregas meanwhile, had a very cumbersome game, apparently his parents are over from Spain and it certainly looked as though Cesc had been tucking in to too much home cooked Paella. The Gunners' only real opportunity of the first half came when Fabregas hooked a cute ball into the area and the Flanimal hit the side netting on the half volley. Toure's header from a Fabregas corner brought a cringeworthy Hollywood save from Robinson which could have put his side in trouble, because he might easily have caught the ball. Like I said, ego is fine if you've got talent. Robinson hasn't, fat tosser. Thereafter, the Gunners' looked contemplative in possession, with Adebayor isolated upfront. Tottenham stuck rigidly to their gameplan and at half time, the ground was a couldron of frustration. The lack of any tempo was confusing, as none of the starting eleven had played in midweek, whereas Spurs pitted a first choice side to face Man City.
Four minutes into the second half, Arsenal took an undeserved lead. Rosicky found space and fed Fabregas on the edge of the box and a precocious backheel found Adebayor, who had drifted out to the left (amusingly, in the build up, a guy several rows behind me yelled, 'get in the f*****g middle Adebayor!'), his finish was poor, stroking the ball pretty much straight at Robinson. So it was with a sense of surprise and curiosity that I saw the ball roll in as the chunky 'stopper' allowed it underneath him. Adebayor has replaced Robert Pires as Tottenham's 'bete noir' with his sixth goal against Tottenham in five games. But Arsenal still did not raise the tempo, seemingly settling for 1-0, and Tottenham would punish them eventually. Lennon took the ball down the right hand side, switched back onto his left foot and floated a precise cross to Robbie Keane completely unmarked on the back post, but the sprawling figure of Kolo Toure unnerved Keane and he blasted his effort against the crossbar. Arsenal did not heed the warning and one minute later Spurs had parity. Kaboul knocked the ball forwards to Robbie Keane on the touchline, he found Berbatov with a neat backheel and Berbatov smashed the ball above Almunia and into the net. It was a shame for Spurs that he spent the rest of the game sulking and pleading, he is a top, top striker and a player I thoroughly enjoy watching.
Disaster threatened to turn to tragedy just three minutes later. Huddlestone's free kick wasn't cleared and Berbatov shuffled past Toure, who hacked him down, leaving Rob Styles no choice but to point to the spot. Robbie Keane had been successful in all of his previous five spot kicks this season, so I didn't hold out too much hope. But Almunia wasn't fooled by Keane's shuffle and drop of the shoulder and stood firm to beat out the Irishman's weak effort. Arsenal ventured forward and won a corner and Arsene Wenger sent on Nicklas Bendtner. Had van Persie been on the bench, it would certainly have been him sent on to rescue a victory, fate can be a fickle mistress indeed. Bendtner ran from the touchline, and didn't stop until he lost Huddlestone in the area and rose majestically to head Fabregas' corner past the helpless Robinson. It was quite a first touch, I could see his run as the corner came in and it was a goal borne of desire, Bedntner simply would not entertain the prospect of somebody else being on the end of that corner.
Tottenham had cause for complaint with two minutes left on the clock as Sagna untidily tripped Adel Taraabt in the area, but Styles fortunately waved away the appeals. Though Tottenham have made missing late penalties in London derbies a habit this season. The Gunners' held out and the final whistle was greeted with a raptuous chorus of Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody.' The players mobbed Almunia as the crowd chanted his name gratefully, somewhere there was a moody German possibly re evaluating the wisdom the following comment, 'Almunia hasn't won us any big games.' Spirits were particularly high in the Bank of Friendship afterwards, where several celebratory Guinnesses and stiff whiskies toasted the victory. And so to you dear readers I wish the season's greetings, needless to say I shall be trawling the South Coast and the Mersey in the next seven days, so if you can tear yourself away from the turkey and alcohol long enough, do watch this space. Otherwise, have yourselves a Merry little Christmas and let's hope that St. Nick can deliver a few more Arsenal type pressies in the coming days, six points will do it nicely for me.LD.
Date:Sunday December 23 2007
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