Sunday, February 26, 2012
Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2
Spurs picked the worst possible day to let slip a two goal lead. After a bright opening and two goals inside thirty five minutes everything fell apart for Tottenham who were hoping to maintain parity with the top two teams while widening the gap on the teams challenging for third place. A defining match in terms of the title race for Spurs and a readjustment of their focus to the FA Cup and finishing third in the League to be assured of Champions League football next season.
Arsenal 5 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Scorers: Sagna, Van Persie, Rosicky, Walcott (2) Saha, Adebayor (pen)
Team: Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, King (Dawson), Assou-Ekotto; Kranjcar (Sandro), Parker, Modric, Bale; Saha (Van der Vaart), Adebayor Subs: (unused) Cudicini, Rose, Lennon, Defoe
Harry Redknapp selected the formation and team which defeated Newcastle a fortnight ago but with Younes Kaboul replacing Michael Dawson in central defence.
Spurs were ahead after three minutes when a pass from Emmanuel Adebayor found Louis Saha in acres of space and as he advanced into the penalty area his shot was deflected off the heel of the defender trying to close him down. The ball looped into the air and over the goalkeeper. Spurs couldn't have asked for a better start.
Gareth Bale then put in a good cross to the near post which Adebayor pushed wide. Spurs had started much quicker and were well marshalled in defence and finding space as they broke at pace against a rather stretched Arsenal defence. Spurs were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box for a foul on Nico Kranjcar which they took quickly before Arsenal had re-organised but it came to nothing.
Gradually, Arsenal started to put their game together and a Van Persie shot was deflected wide by Kaboul. From the corner to the near post Brad Friedel reacted well to save a goal bound header. This was a warning to Spurs that they couldn't relax or take anything for granted.
Spurs broke forward when Saha released Adebayor but his effort was blocked by the goalkeeper and rebounded to Kyle Walker who blazed over. Walker was taking every opportunity to get forward on the right but on his next venture forward, he never had the ball fully under control.
Scott Parker and Luca Modric were both booked when Parker gave away a free-kick outside the box. On thirty four minutes Modric played Bale in and as he took on the defenders he was brought down by Gibbs with a penalty awarded. Adebayor coolly scored on his 28th birthday to give Spurs a two goal advantage and become only the second player, after Jimmy Robertson, to score for both clubs in a north London derby.
Almost immediately, Arsenal caught Spurs out on the halfway line and Walcott had the chance to break for goal. He chose to pass to Van Persie but he was crowded out. Next, Bale got away again but he chose to shoot when Saha was unmarked, and the goalkeeper saved easily.
Just as Spurs were looking to consolidate and get to half-time, Arsenal scored twice in three minutes. Van Persie's shot hit the post but Arsenal collected the ball on the left and played it back in for Sagna to put in a header which gave Friedel no chance. Three minutes later, after a poor clearance from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Van Persie equalised from the edge of the box. Such a turn around, from Arsenal looking in disarray, it was Spurs who were bewildered.
At half-time Redknapp replaced Kranjcar and Saha with Sando and Rafael Van der Vaart but it was Arsenal who were in the ascendancy. They quickly got into their stride and Spurs simply didn't respond. Friedel was called upon to save low to his left but after fifty minutes he could do nothing as Rosicky put Arsenal ahead. He had created the goal with a penetrating run and kept going to meet the cross ahead of King and Friedel and poke the ball home at the near post.
Arsenal were playing with a desire and a confidence which had been missing in the first half. Spurs were floundering as Walcott shot past the post but a few minutes later he was set away as Arsenal counter attacked with Spurs defence spread-eagled to get number four. Three minutes later he added number five, as Spurs stuttered not knowing what to do, having not scored at home for a year.
Sandro put in a shot which was saved but there was little threat from Spurs and at the end they were relieved to keep the score line as it was. Parker was sent off in the final minutes for a second bookable offence.
It was a bad day at the office but in typical Spurs fashion they had to have it against Arsenal. The home team wanted the result more than Spurs who even though they had gone two up were never in control, there had been warning signs which they didn't heed. The changes made at half-time didn't help the team as neither player got into the game and those around them seemed unsure of how they were to play. No Spurs player takes credit from this game and unusually for him, Ledley King was not at his best.
Spurs now trail City and United by ten and eight points respectively. They are seven points ahead of Arsenal who moved ahead of Chelsea, on goal difference, into fourth. Spurs' outside dreams of the title have now faded so their focus has to be to retain third and Champions League football with a determined effort to win a trophy - the FA Cup. Their next game, against United at home, is not the best way to get over their worst performance of the season but to avoid going into free-fall they need a positive result.
This match has been called a 'classic' by the media but I'm tired of Spurs being involved at the losing end of such matches. Spurs have a problem when facing 'top' teams, they can't put together a performance or a result. This season, apart from Liverpool at home, they have struggled in those matches. They've lost three out of three against the Manchester clubs. They beat Arsenal at home but the performance wasn't great. They drew with Chelsea but after a good start allowed a poor Chelsea to dominate them. They have a chance next weekend to rectify that issue when they meet a United side reliant on their experienced players to keep them on track.
Spurs missed the chance to complete the 'double' over Arsenal for the first time since 1992-93 and they haven't beaten United since May, 2001 so that will be a record to try to correct next week.