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Arsenal v Spurs, 26.02.12

(1.30 P.M.)

Arsenal Scorers:-
Sagna, 40
Van Persie, 43
Rosicky, 51
Walcott 65, 68

Spurs scorers:-
Saha, 4
Adebayor (pen), 34

Attendance:- 60, 106

Referee:- Mr. M. Dean
Assistants:- Mr. S. Child & Mr. S. Long
Fourth Official:- Mr. P. Dowd

Arsenal (4-2-3-1):- Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs (sub Jenkinson, 75); Arteta, Song; Walcott (sub Oxlade-Chamberlain, 81), Rosicky, Benayoun (sub Gervinho – 88); Van Persie (Capt.)

Subs not used:- Fabianski; Miquel, Park Chu-Young, Chamakh

Booked:- Koscielny (foul on Kranjcar), Arteta (foul on Bale), Van Persie (Dissent)

Spurs (4-3-1-2):- Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, King (Capt.) (sub Dawson, 82), Assou-Ekotto; Kranjcar (sub Van der Vaart, 46), Parker, Modric; Bale; Saha (sub Sandro, 46), Adebayor
(Armband to Dawson)
Subs not used:- Cudicini; Rose; Lennon; Defoe

Booked:- Modric (Dissent), Parker (foul on Van Persie), Sandro (foul on Van Persie)

Sent off:- Parker (second bookable offence), 86 (foul on Vermaelen)

They won their Cup Final

It was, of course, an unmitigated disaster. Never had we felt more confident before an away game against Arsenal. Never had they felt more trepidation. Never can I remember so little Arsenal noise as we arrived via Gillespie Road Tube Station. Our dreams of an early goal were fulfilled in Saha. We even went two up through what has been reported as a dodgy Bale dive for a penalty converted by Adebayor. In poker terms we had raised them considerably. Sadly we then folded in dramatic style.

Surely this was the best Arsenal performance of the season. This was in effect their Cup Final. Death or Glory were the stakes, and the glory went to the home side, inflicting the biggest league defeat in this match that I can recall for quite a while. Horrible memories of Brady in December 1978 come to mind.

You do not want a blow by blow account of this one, do you? Good, because even I left 10 minutes early, and cannot give you such a service. In November, 2008, when we were 4-2 down, I stayed till the bitter end to witness that great come-back, but there was no way back today.

Harry Redknapp’s team selection was “interesting”, you might say. Was he protecting Rafa van der Vaart and Aaron Lennon? Van der Vaart has been a talisman in his North London Derby games, but it was too late for him to have an effect when he arrived at half-time. The momentum was all in Arsenal’s favour, who had hit Spurs with such a psychological blow of levelling that two goal deficit before the break. Was Harry showing faith and loyalty in the same midfield and attack as had pummelled Newcastle 5-0 two weeks ago? If so, his faith was ultimately misguided.

Yes, we did take the early lead and initiative, but you know, as soon as we had scored that first goal, we seemed to let them come at us. After all, Arsenal were set up in attacking style with three midfielders supporting Van Persie. Spurs’ midfield was distorted, with Bale’s licence to roam sometimes interpreted by the player as a licence to disappear, or perhaps to stop running or challenging for what he decided was a lost cause. Assou-Ekotto was too often left without defensive support. Kranjcar showed one or two nice touches early on, but the game soon by-passed him. Parker took an early booking, and I thought he might need to be replaced by Sandro to protect him from the second, but of course he fell to a second booking for only Spurs’ second red card of the season.

Spurs’ strategy early on seemed to be to test the Arsenal defence with a few long balls over the top by Younes Kaboul. Ultimately, it was this strategy which gave Spurs their fourth minute opener, as Adebayor picked up such a pass, and chipped the ball to Saha, whose shot took a looping deflection that beat Szczesny to his right.

Referee Mike Dean had looked like a good omen statistically going into this game, as we had lost just two of the 15 games that he had refereed, whereas Arsenal had not won any of their last 11 league games with Mr Dean in the middle. It looked as if he was on our side, as he denied the home side a penalty shout for a Walker charge in the penalty area, and then a handball shout. Ultimately though, Mr. Dean’s tendency to let the game flow, worked against us, I think, as Arsenal stormed towards our goal.

The home side, had after all, nothing to lose and everything to gain. They are still seven points behind us, and only ahead of Chelsea on goals scored, with an equal goal difference. Spurs still have a tendency to waste free kicks; to take them too quickly; to play them backwards.

Van Persie had an excellent chance after 14 minutes, when his first shot was blocked, then his second attempt passed just wide of Friedel’s right post. Modric did send Bale away on a good run down the left. Bale took the ball to the line, and crossed. Kranjcar’s header landed on the net. Another Van Persie effort took a slight deflection and won his team a corner, taken by Van Persie, and headed sharply by Rosicky. Friedel was on hand to save well, pushing the ball over for another corner.

Mid-way through the half, Spurs broke out of defence, and Saha fed Adebayor, who tried to shoot, but was blocked, before Walker hit a shot into the side netting from outside the box. Parker got his first booking for what might have been a harsh decision by Mr. Dean. He actually booked Modric for dissent first, before dealing with Parker. Arteta’s kick was blocked. Koscielny took a booking for halting Kranjcar in his tracks, but there was no yellow for the foul by Szczesny and/or Gibbs on Bale that was awarded for the penalty. Adebayor planted the penalty inside Szczesny’s left post. Bale then had a shot saved after a run down the left side.

After that, it was more or less one way traffic, and in the wrong direction for Spurs fans. Van Persie hit a shot that rebounded out off the post. The ball was ultimately returned by Arteta, and Sagna was allowed a bullet header that beat Friedel’s right hand. Arteta saw yellow for a cynical foul on Bale, but Arsenal levelled the scores, after Spurs could only half clear the ball from their 6 yard area, and Van Persie was given room to fire what I think was an unstoppable shot into Friedel’s top right corner.

Harry’s half-time double substitution was not quite what we were hoping for, with Lennon being top of most Spurs fans’ shopping lists to replace Kranjcar. The deluge started with a close range goal by Rosicky, prodding home a Sagna cross from the right in the 50th minute. A Spurs corner did fall to Younes Kaboul, but he could not get enough power on his shot, which was cleared easily. Walcott had shown his threat when he fired just wide across the goal after 56 minutes, but he did score in the 65th minute. A Spurs attack had broken down on the Arsenal goal-line, when Bale lost the ball, and Arsenal countered with devastating effect. Van Persie was up against Kaboul, who initially looked to have saved the day, but then the Dutchman managed to slip the ball to Walcott, given too much time and space on the Spurs left flank, firing home with his right foot. Bale was still in the Arsenal half of course, and Assou-Ekotto had been committed to that Spurs attack, struggling to regain his ground.

Walcott completed the kill three minutes later. Spurs had wasted another free kick in their half, passing the ball back, and sideways, allowing Arsenal to apply pressure. A return ball over the top of the defence left Ledley King stranded and Walcott hit his second goal.

Spurs had two or three half chances from corners, but it was game, set and match to Arsenal, and of course it really, really hurts. Once again, I get the feeling that it hurts we fans far, far more than it does the players. Arsenal players were well and truly psyched up and they do understand the meaning of this fixture. Full gloating rights pass to the Woolwich Wanderers until next time. It’s up to us to bounce back in the way they did today, against Man Utd next Sunday. Third place is ours, if we want it enough.


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