Tottenham Hotspur 2 Arsenal 1
I`ve often spoken of my distaste for this fixture in the past. It`s the only one in the season I actively don`t enjoy. The stomach churning nausea as one contemplates defeat turns your viewing of the game into a tetchy, spiky experience. I have to say, in the past, it`s brought out the negative side in me. The teeth gnash that bit harder, the groans of a misplaced pass pass that little bit louder and a "win at all costs" mentality can prevail. It`s an attitude I`ve made a concerted effort to banish over the years. I`ve tried to concentrate on enjoying the game and treating match attendance as a hobby. A joyous pass time. But the anxiety mixed in with the constant threat of violence makes this fixture one I fulfil out of misguided duty more than anything.
Indeed, some of my best friends don`t even go anymore. People that attend every single other match of the season, but shelf this one. Nevertheless, an unusually glorious October day greeted us and shirt sleeves and shades were the order of the day. I met a friend at Northumberland Park station. She had already seen a boy of six in an Arsenal shirt greeted with abuse from across the platform. In the same fixture last year, she`d had a beer can thrown at her head upon exiting the away end. This is the sort of think I`m talking about.
The game hardly brings out the best in Arsenal fans either. The chant of "It should`ve been you, shot in Angola, it should`ve been you" rained down from the away end persistently whenever Adebayor came near. On an intellectual level, the chant is abhorrent at best. Whatever Adebayor did to us- and he was a prize bellend- essentially saying, "Because you wronged my club I wished you`d been machine gunned to death by terrorists" is not really excusable and a few furlongs away from proportion. We can rightly complain about vile chants aimed against Arsene Wenger. But "he started it sir" is hardly the most sanguine mitigation. Credit to Adebayor, he grinned it off and did not come close to reacting. Unlike at Eastlands, where the lies still persist around the phantom "elephant song" that never aired, I wouldn`t have blamed Adebayor if he had reacted on this occasion.
Though Arsenal began the game well enough, it was Spurs that were gifted the first opportunity through the sort of comedy defending that has irked Arsenal for eons now. Emmanuel Adebayor raced down Arsenal`s left with Kieran Gibbs caught drifting infield. Alex Song committed the cardinal sin of diving in despite having no cover- the same error he and Djourou made consecutively in the build up to Blackburn`s 4th goal a fortnight ago- leaving Adebayor to skip to the by line. The tigerish Coquelin got across well to cover, but conspired only to give the ball away to Scott Parker. When he miscontrolled, Song thought he`d let Spurs have another go by giving the ball straight back to Adebayor. He found Scott Parker, allowing him to go clean on goal, but Szczesny usually saves in these situations by spreading himself and he did so again.
It was once again looseness in possession that would cause Arsenal problems when Ramsey gifted the ball straight to Gareth Bale. The simian looking winger cut the ball back to van der Vaart; who bobbled his effort over the bar. Walcott`s left footed curler drifted just wide of the post at the other end as Arsenal began to feel into the game. That said, the Gunners were grateful to Szczesny once more when Defoe`s left wing cross saw van der Vaart drift past Mertesacker undetected at the front post; but Szczesny made the block with his feet.
But Arsenal began to take hold of proceedings and really ought to have scored just after half an hour. Robin van Persie raced past Younes Kaboul on the left hand side, marauded for the by line and cut the ball back for the onrushing Gervinho- but he couldn`t find his stride, eventually scuffing a simple chance wide. Walcott again tested the ventricles of the Spurs faithful when he cut in from the right and unleashed a left foot shot which flew just over. But Spurs capitalised on more amateurish Arsenal defending to take the lead on 41 minutes.
Kieran Gibbs had once again drifted away from his position as Adebayor took up the ball from Tottenham`s right, leaving Song to come across to cover. This also meant Mertesacker had to drift infield, leaving the back post run of van der Vaart unchecked. Adebayor clipped an inch perfect ball to the Dutchman at the back post; he controlled and volleyed into the far corner. There has been some murmur as to whether van der Vaart controlled the ball with his arm. Maybe he did, but I had a good, diagonal view in the upper tier and I certainly didn`t appeal. Tottenham scented blood and almost doubled their advantage when Gareth Bale sent an arrowing twenty five yard strike narrowly wide.
Half time saw the usual fun and games with chants exchanged between supporters. You often find "Have you ever seen Tottenham win the league?" rather halts the banter. Even the introduction onto the pitch of Trigger from Only Fools n Horses couldn`t inspire a witty riposte to that taxing question. Spurs appeared to resume the tempo after the restart. Gareth Bale`s run and shot fizzed just over Szczesny`s crossbar. But as with Tottenham`s opener, Arsenal hit the gas and scored just as they looked at their most tepid. A succession of Arsenal crosses were half cleared until Kaboul`s header found Song. With van der Vaart wilfully refusing to protect his flank, Song was allowed to gallop into an ocean of space on the left hand side and send in a low cross for Aaron Ramsey to stroke past Brad Friedel. Game on, you felt. I was confident Arsenal would win from this position.
All the threat came down Arsenal`s left with Redknapp`s midfield overloaded with attacking prowess. Van der Vaart makes Arshavin`s attempts at backtracking look meaningful as time and again Gibbs and Gervinho were able to double up on Kyle Walker. As appeared to be the case throughout the game; a golden chance came against the run of play. Bale`s through ball had the Arsenal defence claiming for an offside flag that never came. Adebayor was clean through, but Szczesny once again sprawled his body and got a strong left hand to the attempt. If there is a better goalie in the league for one on ones, I`d like to see his case stated.
But the second half changed on two incidents that arrived close together. Firstly, when Redknapp finally worked out that van der Vaart was more likely to lose Spurs the game than win it and he duly removed him for Sandro- leaving the more conscientious Luka Modric to protect the left flank. That sealed off Arsenal`s only genuine avenue of threat. Then a collision between Assou Ekotto and Sagna saw the French full back sprawled against the advertising hoardings- eventually being taken off with a broken fibula. He will be out for three months. There have been plenty of mistakes made by the club over the last few months. But losing Vermaelen, Wilshere and now Sagna- undoubtedly three of our best players- to injury feels like more of a kick in the swingers than we deserve. Jenkinson had to come on and, because he isn`t close to ready for this level of competition, Arsenal had to bring on Benayoun too to mind him.
The Spurs winning goal- when it came- was a result of further shambles. Ramsey failed to follow a basic instruction from Arteta to pick up Sandro`s run from a throw in. He dawdled into the box and pulled back for Modric. Song blocked his shot and the ball fell to Kyle Walker. Gervinho made the world`s most half arsed attempt to close him down, leaving Walker to hit a clean strike into Szczesny`s bottom corner. The Polish keeper will be disappointed he didn`t save it. But given his form to that point in the game and, indeed, this season. It is hard to single him out.
The atmosphere in the away end for that last twenty minutes completely drained. We all knew the game was up. We sensed the lack of urgency, the lack of ideas, the vain hope that van Persie might just conjure something from nothing and do it all by himself again. We put Arshavin on for Gervinho, but that just meant more of the same. Same formation, same insipid, slow build up play. Mertesacker went upfront for the last 5 minutes. Park stayed on the bench. Chamakh stayed at home. Are we to assume Mertesacker is the manager`s preferred option to our two international strikers? The mind truly boggles.
Spurs really ought to have sealed a two goal victory. A route one ball over the top saw Song yell at Mertesacker to leave it. He did so, but neither spotted Bale lurking on the back post. He put the ball wide when he ought to have scored. Szczesny resolved to beat away Defoe`s left footed effort but it felt of scant significance. Arsenal were well beaten by then. Devoid of character, or of voice. There appears to be only one voice at Arsenal nowadays and he doesn`t play on the pitch. The lack of creativity is easily as worrying as the lack of defensive vigour off the ball. Though the latter is eminently more fixable. Is the manager not telling them? Or are they not listening? Neither one makes particularly good reading.
What is clear is that nobody challenges, the players don`t challenge one another. Nobody challenges the manager. Maybe those two incidences aren`t coincidental. Maybe a quiet team is a by product of a manager that doesn`t want any dissenting voices. Mertesacker made a half hearted appeal for handball for the Spurs goal. Nobody shouted to tell Mertesacker he had left van der Vaart unmarked in the same move. We slinked off through the gauntlet of hate on the High Road and home safely. I saw a couple of Arsenal fans jumped at Finsbury Park by six Spurs fans. A friend confirms he saw an Arsenal fan walk up to a Spurs fan at King`s Cross and punch him, unprovoked. I simply headed to my local for a pint. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA (25.Jenkinson '66), 17.SONG, 4.MERTESACKER, 28.GIBBS, 39.COQUELIN, 8.ARTETA, 16.RASMEY, 14.WALCOTT (30.Benayoun '70), 27.GERVINHO (23.Arshavin '75), 10.v.PERSIE(c). Unused: 9.J-Y.Park, 11.A.Santos, 21.Fabianski, 26.Frimpong.
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