Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 1 2009
I haven`t anticipated a North London derby this much for quite some time. Despite the fact that Tottenham have now officially been unable to inflict a league defeat on Arsenal in the noughties, the pervasive feeling was still that we owed Spurs for both the 5-1 Carling Cup defeat and the even more painful 4-4 draw last October. My stomach was turning with nerves on the tube and my anxiety wasn`t eased as I had to meet a friend outside the turnstile. With the teams emanating from the tunnel I was still marooned outside awaiting his arrival. As I had possession of his ticket, doing a runner was not an option. Fortunately he managed to show and we got into the stadium with Arsenal kicking off. Wenger had sensibly reinstated Manuel Almunia in goal, whilst Nicklas Bendtner took his place on the right hand side.
Arsenal began the game brightly, with Bendtner in particular looking lively. The first sniff of an opportunity came as a result of the alertness of Gael Clichy- he intercepted Huddle20stone`s wayward pass and charged down the left hand side, his eventual cross was deflected into the path of Arshavin whose tame shot went straight at Gomes. Van Persie had been better placed for the pass. Tottenham looked good in possession of the ball and denied Arsenal space very effectively. However, any designs they had in winning the game was spoiled by their one dimensional tactics in the final third. Bentley hoof to Crouch, knockdown for Crouch or Jenas. It is true that Arsenal have aerial weaknesses at the back, but Spurs did not seem to clock that Crouch wasn`t going to score headers twenty five yards from goal. Gallas and Vermaelen were on their mettle and marshalled Crouch well. The middle period of the first half proved frustrating for the hosts and they had to rely on a set piece to create their next opportunity. Assou Ekotto committed the first of a good half dozen cynical fouls- none of which he was booked for- when he careered into a crafty Fabregas dribble. Van Persie`s inswinging free kick was glanced narrowly wide by William Gallas. Tottenham`s only sniff of goal came on the twenty minute mark; Bentley again pumped the ball long to Crouch, his knockdown found the finger wagging, mallet headed puppy Keane and he snaked past Vermaelen only for Alex Song to deny him with an excellently timed challenge.
Despite the visitors dominating possession, it was Arsenal creating the chances. Once again, Clichy showed fleet of foot to intercept an errant Jenas pass to set Arshavin away on the left, again Arshavin tried to go for glory with better placed team mates in the area, but his attempted shot was blocked by King and fell serendipitously to the onrushing Fabregas, but Gomes was down smartly to his left with the save and was quickly up to collect the ball at the feet of Nicklas Bendtner. Sloppiness at the back almost cost Tottenham when the spectacularly awful Assou Ekotto`s clearance fell straight to Fabregas on the edge of the area, he played van Persie in in the right channel and the Dutchman contrived to drag the ball wide with Bendtner well placed for the cutback. The Gunners were creating chances despite not being at their best, but lacked altruism in good positions, opting for personal glory with a better placed team mate left to wave their arms in frustration. Nicklas Bendtner had to be withdrawn with a recurrence of his groin injury and Eduardo entered the fray. It was a shame as I felt Bendtner had been one of our better players to that point.
When the goal arrived it was something against the run of play with Spurs keeping the ball well- though lacking the inspiration to do anything with it other than lump it to Crouch. Sagna took a throw in next to the corner flag, Fabregas returned it to Sagna with no Spurs pressure on the ball, Banger whipped in a low cross which Robin van Persie showed predatory instincts to muscle his way in front of King and prod the ball goalwards. Ashburton erupted as it squirmed under Gomes` body and into the net. Does anyone still feel the need to question why RvP plays as a central striker? Joy turned to elation immediately after the restart. Palacios played a sloppy pass which Fabregas picked up, he motored past Huddlestone, skipped past Palacios and waltzed through the desperate tackle of Ledley King, leaving him one on one with the keeper, the skipper kept a cool head to despatch an excellent low finish which I think, yours truly may have got a hernia from celebrating. It was undoubtedly a picture book moment and the most combustible goal celebration I can remember at the stadium since Henry`s injury time winner against United in 2007. It was a goal reminiscent of Vieira`s stride through the Spurs defence in 2004 and of course of Henry`s memorable seventy yard jaunt in 2002. Fabregas celebrated with typically endearing relish. The goal was also slightly reminiscent of the Reyes goal against Middlesbrough in 2004 insofar as that was another example of two goals going in in such quick succession. And who intercepted Middlesbrough`s kick off in the build up to that goal before beating three players?
The stadium was a markedly happier place after 45 than it had been after 40. Spurs simply did not have the attacking acumen to threaten a comeback. Whilst Arsenal were able to create chance after chance despite being shorn of Bendtner, Rosicky, Vela and Walcott; Spurs without Lennon, Modric and Defoe simply did not have the imagination to trouble the Arsenal goal. Robbie Keane will have learned the value of silence this weekend. Arsenal looked to press their advantage home within minutes of the restart. Van Persie received Clichy`s low pass, twisted and turned Dead-Knee King before putting in a low cross which Gomes again fumbled, the ball came out to Diaby- who had a quite woeful game- but his shot was blocked be Sebastien Bassong`s torso. Arsenal were in on goal again before too long, Fabregas curved a delicious pass around the back of Assou Ekotto which found Eduardo in the area, but Gomes rushed out to close the angle and blocked the shot. The third goal did come and any lingering nerves surrounding Arsenal`s infamous ability to chuck away two goal leads were abated. Assou Ekotto was again found wanting when he scythed through the back of Eduardo, everyone seemed to stop but the referee played a sensible advantage, leaving Sagna to provide another low cross and his third assist of the week, as King and Gomes fumbled the ball between them and arch poacher van Persie scuffed the ball in off his right foot. Van Persie has to be considered one of the three best strikers in the world now. His goals tally is comparable to Torres, but in terms of creating chances and notching assists, he is ahead of most of the world`s best goal getters. When Wenger made the decision to sell Thierry Henry, I think he did so in the knowledge that van Persie was capable of leading the line for his team. His movement is a constant irritation to defenders, his finishing meticulous, his ability in tight spaces unrivalled and his economy of possession is ruthless. How many times do you see van Persie waste a pass or take a bad touch? I`m not a superstitious or religious man- not at all. But I`ll offer my prayers to any deity going that Robin van Persie stays fit for the whole season.
Spurs promptly fell apart and Arsenal should have run up an even more satisfying score line. Fabregas chipped a gorgeous ball over the top of the Spurs defence, who were frantically appealing for offside like a man drowning in a distant ocean, Gomes came a long way out of his goal and Eduardo probably should have attempted the lob given that Gomes was outside his area and unable to handle, but Eduardo took too much time over the finish and put it wide. I mentioned after van Persie`s missed header at Upton Park last week that sometimes you can have too much time to think about a chance and this was another such occasion. Redknapp tested the much vaunted strength of his bench by removing Tom Huddlestone from the action and inviting him to sit on it. As far as I know, the bench maintained his weight so Robbie Keane was probably correct in his assertion. Keane himself was also removed and invited to assess the strength of the bench at close quarters for the last twenty minutes.
In this fixture last year, Arsenal made errors in the build up to the game with ill advised comments. On this occasion, none of our players uttered a word prior to the match. As usual Tottenham talked the good game, obsessively identifying Arsenal as their benchmark (literally in Keane`s case) before failing to deliver. Again. This was hardly Arsenal`s most fluent game of the season, there were occasions where Song was left with too much of the defensive burden to shoulder on his lonesome and some of our passing was slack to say the least. We were perhaps fortunate that Tottenham`s tactics were so unimaginative. From an attacking standpoint we also wasted several chances, but ultimately the game was won in a sixty second period at the end of the first half. I`ve spoken before about Arsenal`s inability to master the turning points of games. Yesterday they managed that. Firstly with two quick fire goals and then by grabbing the third. Had the game gone to 2-1 in the second half, nerves would likely have enveloped the players given the experiences of Alkmaar and West Ham. Arsenal appear to have worked on their play in wide areas with a good many of our goals this year emanating from the flanks. Sagna has clearly improved his crossing and we have looked a much more dangerous team with van Persie`s predatory instincts allied with a better final ball from wide areas. This Arsenal team, though defensively a little irresponsible, always looks like scoring and if we can keep hammering mid to lower table sides such as Spurs at home, then the season could look positive, it was especially pleasing that we didn`t allow Spurs any chances with the game at 2-0. I dearly hope that the lessons of Upton Park continue to carry through the season. That Wenger felt worried enough to throw his jacket at the bench with the score at 3-0 shows that he is at least trying to impart that wisdom. But for now, the Gooner nation is satisfied.LD.
1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 4.FABREGAS(c), 2.DIABY, 52.BENDTNER (9.Eduardo `36), 23.ARSHAVIN (27.Eboue `78), 11.v.PERSIE (16.Ramsey `86). Unused; 6.Senderos, 8.Nasri, 24.Mannone, 28.Gibbs.
Date:Sunday November 1 2009
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