Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday September 22 2010
Tottenham away was quite literally the last draw I wanted in this competition (with the possible exception of Newcastle). With the likes of Peterborough and Northampton still in a trip to an unchartered away ground where the risk of getting my face danced on was not quite so stark would have been a good deal more welcome than once again running the gauntlet on the Seven Sister`s Road. Throw in the fact that I felt Arsenal would field a youthful side and that Spurs would go with their first team, I wasn`t optimistic for anything other than defeat in truth. Upon taking the mammoth saunter down Seven Sister`s Road, it was obvious that the fixture attracted a number of Gooners who had never been to White Hart Lane before, as I would estimate at least 60% were wearing colours, oblivious to the trouble that invites at this fixture. However, despite some ludicrous stewarding (the away turnstile was not opened until 45 minutes before kick off, leaving a gaggle of us kicking our heels outside in case any knuckle dragging mouth breathers fancied a pop. Since I travelled to the game alone, I was left to walk away from the away section alone and hope against hope that the wrong people hadn`t seen me. Cheers for that coppers.) I entered the ground to hear rumour spread that the likes of Rosicky, Nasri and Koscielny were all likely to feature. Suddenly, a game I had previously been quite relaxed about, given that I was expecting a reserve team and expecting defeat, I began to feel the nerves roost in my guts slightly. The pressure was suddenly on again, with a side like that, we had to be winning.
Not least because the fall out of losing and using several senior players- particularly in midfield with Fabregas injured- would have invited criticism for the manager. Indeed, in my own mind, I rapidly questioned the line up; but accepted that these are the sorts of decisions Arsene is paid to make. Spurs meanwhile fielded a similar line up of fringe players, a couple of first teamers and a sprinkling of callow youths. It was pretty much like for like in terms of team selection, even if the Spurs starting eleven did cost significantly more to assemble than ours. Though it appeared Harry was prepared to field wife Sandra in central midfield. Arsenal were also able to field Gibbs, Wilshere and Lansbury in the starting line up, with Eastmond and Emmanuel Thomas on the bench, elucidating Redknapp`s ludicrous pre match assertion that Arsenal only had one young English player. The game began with a minute`s applause for late Spurs forward Bobby Smith. But from the start of the game, the one young Englishman scrotum face had referred to showed everybody what the fuss was about. From the 1st minute to the 120th, he simply dominated it. Always available for the ball when a team mate was in trouble, always took the sensible decision with the ball in possession (whether it be a defence splitting pass or a two yard tuck to a team mate) and he stood up to some heavy knocks from, ahem, heavyweights such as Wilson Palacios. Apropos to nothing, I don`t think for one second Spurs were trying to kick Jack, I just don`t think they could get near him. I`d be interested to see both how much ground he covered in the 120 minutes; I`m told his ball retention was somewhere in the region of 139 passes, meaning he was on the ball an average of every 52 seconds for 2 hours. I can`t think that any player on the pitch matched him in either regard. I wonder how much of a plum Stuart Pearce feels with his big, "look at me, me big boss man" criticism of Wilshere a fortnight ago.
The Gunners took an early stranglehold on possession and were rewarded for their dominance after 14 minutes. Eboue`s gorgeous cross field pass found Gibbs, who touched the ball wide to Nasri. Wilshere moved wide and received Nasri`s pass, then Wilshere fired a low cross across the six yard box which Henri Lansbury was on hand to touch into the net Vieira stylee. Spurs were shell shocked and could only look on like a boxer reeling from a stinging uppercut, as Arsenal popped the ball around the "oles" from the away end. But whilst Arsenal were controlling the game, I was rather concerned that we were not looking to kill it off with a second goal. No side ever controls a game for every second of the match; the key for Arsenal is to snuff teams out when we`re in the ascendancy. We have had the same amount of shots on goal as Chelsea this season; yet they have seven more goals than us. We need to develop that ruthlessness. To prove the point, despite looking insipid for much of the half, a Johan Djourou slip allowed David Bentley to race clear. But with Pavlyuchenko and dos Santos better placed for passes, Bentley allowed his ego to dictate with the Arsenal fans treating him to some invective and blasted the ball high, wide and handsome. Soon after, Pavlyuchenko cut in from the right after out muscling Djourou and fired a shot into the side netting which had half of the stadium mistakenly acclaiming a goal.
But the away side were still very much in control. They almost produced a carbon copy of their opening goal when Gibbs again found Nasri on the left, Rosicky moved into space on the touchline and sent a low cross towards Lansbury again, but Bassong moved in with a vital block. Arsenal should have been allowed to take a deserved two goal lead when Wilshere split the Spurs defence to send Kieran Gibbs clean through, put as the rampaging left back skipped around Pletikosa, the linesman wrongly had his flag erect. Gibbs` performance was also a huge encouragement, I`m struggling to think of anything he did all night that was wrong. The impunity with which he bombed forward put me in mind of, dare I say it, Ashley Cole. If he can emulate the player, but not the flaky, self absorbed personality, we`ve got a hell of a player. Let`s hope his injury is not as bad as it looks. Spurs were certainly grateful for the half time whistle having chased shadows for much of the 45 minutes, but I still had an uneasy feeling. The gentleman next to me guffawed somewhat when I agreed with him that we`d been playing excellently, but added the caveat, "But I bet money they equalise before the 55th minute." Redknapp sent for reinforcements in the considerably flabby shape of Robbie Keane and diminutive winger Aaron Lennon- who runs like a woman in high heels running for the bus.
The change paid dividends as Spurs were level within four minutes of the restart. Kyle Naughton stabbed a ball through to Robbie Keane as the Arsenal back line stepped up and appealed for an errant offside flag that never came. Keane`s tame finish dribbled through the fingers of Fabianski and into the net. Reading into Arsene`s pre match comments ("You get a second chance, but it`s important you take it") as well as his post match comments, ("It was a shame for him because everything else he did well. But it was good for him we won") we might be looking at the death throes of an Arsenal goalkeeping career that at one time promised so much. That was as much as Spurs really offered for two hours. Lennon tried to get at Gibbs without success, expertly marshalled by the fast growing full back. The Gunners gradually reaffirmed their grip on the game, with Wilshere pulling the strings once more. Arsenal ought to have reassumed the lead when Rosicky`s left wing cross reached Vela at the back post, but he craned his neck and headed over. It must be said it was something of a failed audition for the young Mexican who lacked the necessary presence to lead the line and often found himself bundled off the ball by Sebastien Bassong.
Marouane Chamakh was sent for to bolster the forward line and add that missing presence, whilst Andrey Arshavin joined him. Chamakh was in the thick of the action straight away when he glanced Gibbs cross across the face of the Spurs goal. As full time approached, Arsenal pressed on, Lansbury and Denilson stung the palms of Pletikosa with shots from outside the box, whilst Wilshere`s effort was blocked by a last ditch challenge from Bassong. At the other end, Spurs briefly threatened on the counter attack, just as Aaron Lennon made a beeline for goal and had his finger perched on the trigger, Laurent Koscielny denied him with a superb last ditch block. Koscielny was again utterly dominant in the air and on the ground all evening. I`ve enjoyed what I`ve seen of him so far. He had a brief wobble away at Blackburn but looks to have learned from it. More of the same please. Arsenal threatened to deservedly win the game When Nasri`s pass split the Spurs defence again and Chamakh bore down on goal, but Bassong did well to keep pace and put the Moroccan off of a shit from close range. But extra time was required, when in truth, the game should have been killed before the second half even got under way.
But the Gunners applied the killer instinct and finished the game in the first four minutes of extra time. Arshavin looped a ball into the Spurs box for the onrushing Nasri, Bassong tugged his shirt and the penalty was duly awarded. Having been chastised by his manager for not stepping up on Saturday, Nasri wasn`t about to invite another flea in his ear from Arsene. He stepped up and coolly slotted the ball to Pletikosa`s right with the hapless Czech keeper sprawling off to his left. The away end rejoiced, singing Nasri`s name to the strains of KC and the Sunshine Band`s 'Baby Give It Up.` Three minutes later, there was a sense of déjà vu apparent as Wilshere sent Chamakh clear in the area and a fatigued and languishing Stephen Caulker tugged Chamakh back and another spot kick was correctly awarded. Nasri stepped up again and this pea rolled the ball to the keeper`s left. Both of his cool conversions make Nasri`s decision to snub his duties at the Stadium of Light even more maddening. I would have swapped either one of those penalties last night for a conversion in the North East. David Bentley somehow missed a gilt edged header from close range, which could have made for a nervous finale.
Spurs were out on their feet, with players cramping up left, right and centre. Unfortunately, Kieran Gibbs went off with what looks depressingly like another metatarsal break. You`ll recall that prior to his metatarsal break last year, Gibbs bruised the same area and nearly missed the Alkmaar game in which he obtained the season slaying injury. Time for a change of boots Gibbsy. The away side ruthlessly killed the game before it`s 100th minute, Wilshere took a quick free kick with the Spurs defence lumbering and slumbering and Arshavin powered into the area to smash the ball past Pletikosa. The home fans streamed out of the stadium, unable to bear the taunting of their delighted neighbours. "Shall we make a DVD?" came the cry of the 3,000. "`Arry, give us a twitch, 'Arry, 'Arry, give us a twitch" followed. But once we`d seen the Spurs fans were not prepared to our reasoned jibes, we were left to serenade their empty seats with, "It`s so empty, it`s so empty, it`s so empty, at the Lane." Tottenham should have had a consolation when Keane`s shot from Bentley`s corner was cleared off the line by Nasri and Fabianski was out sharply to block the rebound. In the end, the final whistle was a relief to the 12 or so Spurs fans that stayed behind. Our walk out onto the Seven Sister`s Road was untroubled for once with very few Tottenham fans even in the N17 postcode by that hour. The win was much deserved, but had it been a league game, we`d have only got a point from a game we utterly bossed; we simply have to kill teams off when they are in our thrall. I am left to praise the manager`s pragmatism in his starting line up and I think he surprised Redknapp in that regard. However, I am fully aware that I would have been criticising the manager for exposing many senior players at a time when we are beset with injury and have bigger games on the horizon. In the long term, we will probably not win the competition and I would imagine the younger charges will return for the next round to continue their education. But for now, it is impossible not to enjoy dishing out a good spanking at the Lane.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 27.EBOUE, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS (22.Clichy '102), 15.DENILSON, 19.WILSHERE, 7.ROSICKY© (23.Arshavin `72), 46.LANSBURY, 8.NASRI, 11.VELA (29.Chamakh `72). Unused: 1.Almunia, 3.Sagna, 40.Eastmond, 41.E.Thomas.
Date:Wednesday September 22 2010
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