When Arsenal and Tottenham meet, it is always a competitive exchange. The North London derby is undoubtedly one of the biggest rivalries in the Premiership. The stadium’s of the two teams are only separated by a few miles, and the neighboring clubs have had a bitter relationship for over a century. Arsenal has dominated the large majority of that time, but this year, Tottenham have the upper hand.
For much of the season, Tottenham have been comfortably seated in third place in the table. Having soundly beat their rivals at White Hart Lane earlier this season, a win today at Emirates would be a sweet follow-up to that earlier victory.
That seemed the likely outcome considering Arsenal’s poor form as of late. That is why today’s win was so important. Today’s decisive result could be considered the victory of Arsenal’s season. It offers renewed hope and gives the club the confidence they they deserve that fourth place position or better.
As the game began, both teams knew the stakes were high. As the game began, both teams looked well matched but things quickly went south for the Gunners. Arsenal’s usual Achilles’ heel, their defense, was their own downfall and allowed Tottenham to score an early first goal.
Emmanuel Adebayedor broke out and ran down the touch line. He passed to Louis Saha who casually sprinted right between the Arsenal center-half and full back. Facing the keeper, Saha struck the ball, which deflected off a defender and found the net. Totteham opened up the scoring in the fourth minute.
Another Tottenham goal came 30 minutes later. Left-back Kieran Gibbs tackled Adebayor in the box and the despised former Gunner was happy to take the penalty kick. Another Tottenham goal from the spot made it 2 nil to Spurs.
Today’s match was about mental strength. Under normal circumstances, when Arsenal are down two goals to none in the first half, they collapse. Usually they lack the confidence to persevere, but today it was different. Even when down two goals to none – to the Spurs, at the Emirates, and as the crowd turned mutinous — the Gunners showed no signs of letting up.
For a team certainly not known for their come-back victories, they scored the first goal of five and began to claw their way back into the match.
Midfield playmaker Mikel Arteta chipped his pass from just inside the box. The unmarked defender, Bacary Sagna, sent a bullet header into the net, making it 1-2.
Then, with only a few minutes remaining in the first half, it was Robin van Persie’s turn. After shooting wide twice earlier this match, the skipper gave new meaning to the phrase “third times a charm.” With three Spurs players all over him, he calmly dribbled the ball until he saw his opportunity. Just as Scott Parker went in for a slide tackle, the Dutch striker made his third attempt count. His magical left foot curled the ball around Parker and scored goal number two for Arsenal and van Persie’s 23rd in league play. The game was level at two all going into the half.
The second half “show” was all Arsenal. I was in awe as I watched the transformation of a team, which only last weekend, was knocked out of the FA Cup by an embarrassing display against Sunderland. And just prior to that miserable loss, Arsenal took a thrashing by AC Milan in the first leg of the Champions League final 16.
Five minutes into the second half, another goal gave Arsenal the lead. Robin van Persie was the playmaker this time as he passed the ball to Tomas Rosicky. A give-and-go with Bacary Sagna gave Rosicky the opportunity to find an opening. A great left footed finish gave the midfielder his first goal in two seasons. The celebrations from the fans and players were probably heard all the way to White Hart Lane, or at least that is what I would like to believe.
Another goal-scoring burst came in the 64th minute. In the box with defenders all around him, van Persie held up the ball just long enough to play in Theo Walcott, who was streaking down the right. The winger danced a one-on-one with Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who was far off his line. Walcott showed rare composure and chipped the ball over the keeper into the center of the goal. Unbelievably, Arsenal were up four goals to two against their arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspurs.
Only two minutes later, Alex Song, who earlier in the match had been off the mark with his passing, played in Walcott perfectly. While goal-side of defender Ledley King, Theo scored a brace by whipping the ball across the face of the goal and into the far corner, making it 5-2.
Even with over 20 minutes left in the match, Tottenham looked sloppy and desperate. Tempers were flaring and Scott Parker made a careless tackle on Thomas Vermaelen, sending the Tottenham midfielder off with his second yellow of the day.
Arsenal stayed in control, held possession and played keep-away. It was music to my ears hearing the fans cheer ‘ole’ each time the ball was passed from one Arsenal player to another.
Perhaps it was new changes in the line-up. Yosi Benayoun started in midfield and Kieren Gibbs was well enough to play left back. The combination of Rosicky and Arteta in the middle made things come alive up front even without Gervinho. And Walcott finally did a few things right. Whatever it was, Arsene Wenger got it right today.
This could be just what the Gunners need to get their season back on track. After a performance like that, the thought of a top four finish in the league is well within their reach. And despite Arsenal needing at least five home goals to advance in Champions League, I am holding out a tiny glimmer of hope for a victory over AC Milan next month.