Tottenham Hotspur 3 Arsenal 3
Having decided to book a well earned week off of work, the build up to my least favourite game of the season was actually rather pleasant. Lunch with an old friend in Belsize Park rather took the mind off the torment that was about to ensue. Terry, Young Tim, Sean and I took the edge off a little further with a few pre game nerve settlers in the Euston Flyer. After that, it was time to brave the tube to Seven Sisters and the long walk up the Tottenham High Road amidst the buzz of police helicopters in the clinging early evening heat.
As always, the atmosphere was white hot. Predictably we were treated to the extended disco version of "2-0 and you ***** it up" by the home faithful. There are quite a few teams that can sing that to us nowadays! Meanwhile, a most amusing "Happy Golden Jubilee" banner was unfurled from the upper tier, along with an amusing rendition of "Champions League, never again." North London derbies are usually either completely sterile or exhilaratingly bonkers affairs with little in between. Since Redknapp took Spurs over and turned them into a more enterprising outfit, they tend to veer towards madcap more often than not. Within five minutes, we knew we were in for a rollercoaster. Abou Diaby- who has rather summed up his Arsenal career to date by playing three excellent games in a row before going off injured- won the ball from Tom Hundredstone, before releasing a pass to Song. Song quickly found Fabregas, who turned inside Modric before delivering a through ball for Theo Walcott, sending him racing away on goal before calmly slotting beyond Gomes. That was his 12th goal of the season.
But the lead only lasted 90 seconds, Corluka found van der Vaart, who had raced beyond Djourou and Diaby to fire inside Szczesny`s front post. But it took the Gunners only 5 minutes to reassert their lead when Nasri drifted in field and found Diaby, Diaby teed Nasri up who let fly from outside the box, firing low past Gomes for his first goal since 19th January and his fourth against Spurs this season. Is he following in the tradition of Pires and Adebayor of becoming Tottenham`s bête noir? The game rather settled down a bit, but still provided barnstorming end to end entertainment. Arsenal nearly asserted a two goal lead when Cesc found van Persie, whose flick once again sent Walcott careering into space, but his low shot flew agonisingly past the post. But the away side eventually did stretch their lead when Gallas miscontrolled Sagna`s cross, Walcott was alive to the ricochet and spooned a lovely cross into the box for van Persie, Gomes saved his initial header, but van Persie was on hand to smash the rebound into the roof of the net for 3-1. His 16th goal in 16 games now.
You rather had the impression that we needed to hold out until half time with the two goal lead intact. But there is obviously a confidence issue with holding onto leads at the moment because the periods in which we were the least assured seem to culminate from us scoring. Assou Ekotto`s cross was flicked on by Crouch; Cesc had the opportunity to get a good up and under on his clearance, but his connection with the ball was poor. His attempt went straight to Tom Hundredstone who hit a rather sweetly hit first time volley past Szczesny from the edge of the area. A quite sapping first half. When the teams came out for the second half, I remarked that I wasn`t sure I had the energy to watch, so one can only imagine what it was like to play in. Tottenham slowly began to assert themselves in the game as the half wore on; Modric played a deceptive reverse ball to van der Vaart, whose shot was tipped wide by Szczesny.
Arsenal were then denied a legitimate goal when Fabregas` raking pass split the Spurs defence and Gomes flapped van Persie`s volley into the net, only for an errant offside flag to go up. Though I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that Gomes might have made a better fist of the save had the whistle not long since gone. Tottenham had to push on, but Walcott`s pace always creates uncertainty in the opposing team and so it proved when Walcott received Wilshere`s pass, raced beyond Dawson but dithered with the cut back and instead sent a low cross which was too pacy for Fabregas on the back post. But just as Arsenal had begun to look comfortable, Spurs found an equaliser. Assou Ekotto`s slide rule pass cut the Gunners rearguard to ribbons, finding Lennon in behind Sagna, Szczesny made a rash decision to come out and took Lennon`s legs. Van der Vaart did not err from the spot.
From here it was anyone`s game with both sides showing an admirable proclivity to attack. It was like watching a bare knuckle boxing match at times; with two hardened fighters wearying, yet somehow finding the resources for one last desperate punch. Van der Vaart`s back heel sent Kaboul racing down the right, his low cross was met by Modric who looked to have scored but for Szczesny`s trailing leg. Szczesny saved well again from Crouch`s header. Meanwhile, Gomes tipped Fabregas` long range shot just round the post. Luka Modric then found substitute Sandro with another clever, deceptive reverse pass. Sandro moved inside Djourou all too easily, but Szczesny saved with his manhood. One save with his knackers and he injured Gareth Bale with his face. Hard as nails.
In the end, a draw was probably a fair result, with Arsenal having the better of the first half and Spurs shading the second. The first thing to say is that it was a fabulous match by two teams committed to playing the game in an attacking, stylish manner. A fantastic advert for the top flight in England. Spurs had 17 shots, Arsenal had 15. That says it all frankly. From our point of view, it`s telling how little surprise there is that we managed to chuck away another two goal lead. We have now lost seven points from two goal leads this season- which only Blackpool can trump. There is clearly a confidence issue because every time we take the lead at the moment, we explode like rat bags and panic ensues. It`s a vicious circle, it`s clearly an issue in the player`s minds, which makes them uptight and leads to them tossing the leads away. They need to relax, but it`s easier said than done. Ultimately, that probably does do us for the title race and now we are left to fight for second place. After the match, we had to run the usual gauntlet of hate outside, which the police did their best to stoke up by preventing Arsenal fans from crossing onto the High Road smoothly, leaving us a terrifying few seconds staring down the barrel of a few knuckle draggers. My next task is to rattle off a letter of complaint to the authorities for some of the most irresponsible policing I`ve ever seen. The positive is that the creative element of Arsenal`s game appeared to be alive and kicking with Fabregas looking fit and in gear again, but the panic needs to stop.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 2,DIABY (19.Wilshere `53), 4.FABREGAS(c), 14.WALCOTT (52.Bendtner `81), 8.NASRI (23.Arshavin `81), 10.v.PERSIE. Unused; 13.Lehmann, 16.Ramsey, 18.Squillaci, 28.Gibbs.
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