Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday February 9 2009
With the fanfare of the transfer window having died down, it was back to the serious stuff with a North London derby fixture at White Hart Lane. Transport for London decided to make a difficult and dangerous journey all the more tumultuous by deciding to close down three quarters of the London Underground with Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham all in action. Bravo fuckwits. So our usual journey from Tottenham Hale to Northumberland Park was made impossible by lack of a train service and the long walk down the Seven Sister`s Road was the only viable option. We arrived inside the ground about 45 minutes before kick off to hear the names Eduardo and Arshavin surprisingly amongst the substitutes. Whilst for Spurs, the all diving, all whingeing, forever in exasperation at the official Robbie Keane made his comeback to the Lane, I was sat in the upper tier but I was sure I could see a tail between his legs. Keane is as distasteful a footballer as there is in the league, kind of like a bastardised hybrid of John Terry and Emmauel Eboue. The away fans chant of "even Rafa thinks you`re shit" was his sole serenade inside an extremely quiet White Hart Lane. (Mind you, that was a good deal wittier than the cringe worthy, "We signed him in the snow/ he`s better than Defoe" for Arshavin).
Tottenham lined up with Keane playing just off of Pavluychenko, a more cautious move than we have seen from Spurs over the years who usually expend all of their attacking energy in the first twenty minutes against us. Nevertheless, they predictably started the livelier, although Arsenal carved out the first half chance when Eboue played a slick 1-2 with van Persie, Eboue raced down the right but placed his cross shot harmlessly wide with Cudicini sprawling. Tottenham responded in kind with a chance from their right winger, Lennon received the ball from Modric, who was pulling Tottenham`s strings in midfield, Lennon easily feinted inside Gael Clichy, but his hubris has always tended to be his left foot and his final product, both worked in tandem as his weak left foot shot was comfortably saved by Almunia. Tottenham had unusually elected to kick towards the Park Lane End in the first half, with the sun shining obstructively into that goalmouth. However, Almunia met all challenges on this particular afternoon rather well. Small controversy would follow, Eboue again raced down the flank to devastating effect, this time the left following a pass from Nasri. Corluka showed him outside and Eboue accepted the invitation, racing to the by-line and pulling back for Adebayor, who was denied by Dawson. The ball broke to Eboue and he gleefully smashed the ball into the net. However, he had been adjudged to have shoved Woodgate in the build up. I believed that to be the correct decision at the time and the highlights have given me little reason for recourse. However, Eboue is hardly a clear and rational thinker and continued to bleat to the referee and was correctly booked for dissent when refusing to retreat for a free kick. It was the sort of caution you just can`t afford to collect in a heated atmosphere.
Arsenal had weathered most of Tottenham`s attacks and set pieces without undue panic after the first twenty minutes and set about putting their own attacking game into action. Cudicini showed his vulnerability to crosses when Toure powered down the left, again past the lead healed Corluka and the Italian keeper fumbled Kolo`s low cross. Fortunately for Spurs, no Arsenal players were lurking and the impressive Palacios cleared. The came a 120 second period that literally hamstrung Arsenal for the remainder of the match. Firstly, Adebayor pulled up whilst chasing a long ball. The Spurs fans heroically spat and jeered at him as his stretcher made its way around the perimeter of the stadium. It was pretty much the only sustained period of noise emanating from the home stand all afternoon, embarrassed into silence by the constant renditions of "It`s so quiet at the Lane." Spurs fans love to mock our appalling home atmosphere, but yesterday proved they are every bit of moribund at home games, just as every other side in England is, so don`t fall for the Tottenham delusion that a twat with a drum equates to a good atmosphere. As Adebayor was making his way down the tunnel, Eboue decided he would quite fancy bailing on the game with a moronic kick on Modric which could easily have been a red card on its own. It was further evidence that Eboue does not have the mentality to play a game of this ilk or at a club the size of Arsenal. His actions were irresponsible and bordering on cowardice. He really should have learned his lesson by now having already been booed by his own fans and after having already got himself deliberately sent off in the 4-0 mauling at Old Trafford last season because he didn`t fancy it. Eboue is simply far too viscous in the head to have learned any lessons and frankly he doesn`t appear to have the quality to tolerate this massive flaw, when perhaps players such as van Persie and Vieira were worth persevering with in the hope that they would grow up. Eboue is now 25 and does not look capable of this kind of contrition. I want to be wrong about him, I want to stick up for the guy, but I can`t and I won`t.
Wenger bought on Bendtner, surprisingly as a lone striker with van Persie in a withdrawn role. I thought Bendtner would play from the right and support van Persie up top; Bendtner`s qualities don`t really compliment a lone furrow, whilst van Persie has the ability and strength to do so. Nevertheless, both worked very hard. But chances were difficult to come by as, with a lack of quality ball playing midfielders, the away side were left to resort to long balls up to Bendtner, which players such as Woodgate and Dawson will eat up all day long. Spurs were in the ascendancy with the man advantage, but looked unsure of themselves at the end of the half. They had obviously set up to counter attack and did not look comfortable being the side with the onus to attack. Wilson Palacios` shot was tipped over by Almunia in first half injury time being the only heart rendering moment in the minutes of Tottenham pressure. However, it was obvious that Redknapp instructed his side to stretch the game in the second half and get Modric and Lennon on the ball as much as possible. But Spurs` most gilt edged chance would come from a more central source as Toure slipped in the area, leaving Pavluychenko through on goal, only for the Russian to blaze wildly over with the goal net winking at him. Tottenham scented blood and Lennon`s precise right wing cross found the head of Robbie Keane but he inexplicably headed over from close range. Arsenal began to rotate their midfield to meet the extra physical demands, with Nasri often taking a shift in the centre, leaving Denilson to protect a full back and van Persie often appearing out wide too.
Arsenal managed to weather the storm and counter attacked effectively enough to earn some set pieces. Nasri`s corner from the left was low and undercooked, but van Persie managed to control and turn on a sixpence and fire the ball just over the angle. The next corner would produce Arsenal`s best chance, van Persie`s delivery was exquisite and Alex Song lost his marker but could only turn the ball inches wide of the far post with no Spurs defender on guard. It would have been a richly deserved goal for Song who, apart from the imperious Gallas, was our best player on the day. The game appeared to have lost its momentum, with Arsenal visibly fatigued and Tottenham running out of ideas. Keane`s excellent control and volley on the edge of the area went very close, but it would be injury time before excitement would rear its features again on the pitch. Though the sight of Eduardo warming up on the touchline was more than enough to excite the away contingent. Firstly, as Spurs committed to attack, Arsenal broke; van Persie played an excellent reverse ball to Bendtner, whose shot was tipped just over by Cudicini. Then from the resulting corner, Tottenham broke and with the inexperienced Gibbs on for the wounded Clichy, Arsenal were cut open on their left with Taraabt finding Modric all on his lonesome, but Almunia was imposing and decisive, racing out to foil Modric`s strike with a point winning save.
We were subjected to the usual volley of phlegm and coins on the way out but thankfully the atmosphere outside was tamer than in recent years (not to say it wasn`t intimidating having a man with his entire face covered by a scarf barking, "where`s yer colours Gooner?" in your face as you turn out onto the Seven Sister`s Road, but I`ve seen far worse on that corner of the road. In these instances, a 0-0 draw is usually the best result on grounds of health and safety). A draw was probably a fair result too, though either side might have nicked it with the chances they had. Spurs never looked entirely at ease with being favourites for the match after the red card having set themselves up as plucky underdog, whilst Arsenal`s defence, marshalled expertly by Gallas, withheld Tottenham`s attacks. A draw is a decent enough result in the circumstances thanks largely to a player who let him team down badly, but with Villa winning again at the weekend; it really does leave Champions League football looking most unlikely next season. The midfield lacked the quality to keep possession and allow the defence a breather, but this has been a hindrance to us all season. In Adebayor we have lost another influential, if slightly off form, player to injury. Hopefully this can be tempered by the twin phoenixes of Eduardo and Arshavin, though one doubts that either quite has the requisite match fitness just yet. Maybe resting van Persie against West Ham wasn`t the bad decision everybody made it out to be.LD.
Date:Monday February 9 2009
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