Arsenal Show No Mercy In North London Annihilation
Arsenal 5 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur
0 – 1 Saha (4)
0 – 2 Adebayor (34 pen)
1 – 2 Sagna (40)
2 – 2 van Persie (43)
3 – 2 Rosicky (52)
4 – 2 Walcott (65)
5 – 2 Walcott (68)
As their season faced implosion, Arsenal’s players provided the character of which they are so often accused of lacking to expose the flaws in Tottenham’s Team of a Generation and the limitations that the Football Association can expect should they appoint Harry Redknapp as England national team coach.
It was far from the “perfect performance” that the manager thought afterwards; it was the perfect response, the perfect strength of character and the perfect way to galvanise the support, unite them. I doubt that will last, such is the fickleness that those who were berating Walcott would within twenty minutes of the restart, be hailing him as the lovechild of Cruyff, Eusbio, Puskas and Messi.
Even abominable cheating by Gareth Bale could not advance Tottenham’s cause. Saha had fluked the opening goal, taking full advantage of a cavernous gap in the centre of the pitch to see his shot deflect over Szczesny, a Brehme 1990-esque deflection over the Pole if you like.
Arsenal responded with an urgency that suggested they were not prepared to sacrifice themselves at the Redknapp altar. There were half-hearted penalty appeals before Sagna’s purposeful run down the right allowed van Persie to shoot narrowly wide.
It was not all one-way traffic. Adebayor pressured Gibbs and Szczesny into a hurried clearance that Walker skied. Arsenal pressed once more, van Persie’s advance curtailed illegally. The freekick from Arteta ended in the wall.
And then Bale intervened. Modric sent him clear, Szczesny came out, appeared for all the world to have clipped him and Mike Dean obliged with the penalty. Replays showed it was a blatant dive yet the damage was done as Adebayor scored. We wait for the FA to take action on this deceit but I would not suggest holding your breath for something to happen.
Whether it was the sense of injustice, the match itself, two previous defeats or criticism around the club, Arsenal responded. Perhaps it was all of those in the melting pot that stung such a proud and defiant response.
The fightback began within five minutes; van Persie shot against the post, Arteta crossed and Sagna hurled himself at the ball, burying it past Freidel. Goals like that and referring constantly to Tottenham as “the enemy” are a surefire way to win friends of the red and white persuasion. And no, I’m not referring to the club’s Uzbeki suitor.
Arsenal were rocking; Tottenham were rolling. The equaliser seemed inevitable as the momentum built. The visitors defence was mesmirised as van Persie turned and squirmed into space, curling a delicious left foot shot into the back of the net. It might have been more before the interval but the ball never broke in the key areas.
Half-time allowed the Tottenham players to regroup. In the early stages of the second half, more of them looked like rabbits caught in headlights than had been the case in the first. Benayoun enjoyed a rare start, giving Arsenal’s passing direction and directness, forcing Freidel to tip a shot around the post.
Rosicky rolled back the years, the emotion of the game of his season came as Sagna whipped in the cross, the Czech nimbly nipped in to beat King and Freidel to ball and deposit it in the net. Having dominated the resurgency in the midfield, it was somehow fitting that the elder statesman of the side provide the springboard for a more emphatic victory.
Arsenal sought to lower the tempo; they knew that calmness was needed to consolidate their lead. They knew the visitors had to attack to equalise. Theo Walcott took inspiration from Rosicky. Anonymous in the first half, Walcott left the pitch to pockets of abuse. In the second he became King.
Rosicky found the youngster in space, Walcott advanced into the area and rifled a low shot inches past the post. Tottenham had been warned; they did not heed that warning. van Persie shielded the ball on the left, pulling all of the visitors defence and midfield toward him. Walcott exploited the space and the Dutchman found him with a perfectly weighted pass. As Freidel advanced, Walcott lifted the ball over him into the net.
The rout was completed minutes later. Song freed Walcott, his finish as unerring as the first. Tottenham’s dishevelled mess of a team had floundered in a match they could ill-afford to lose. Seven points is not that much of a gap to close.
For Arsenal it was the perfect tonic ahead of the trip to Anfield next weekend. Arsene’s summation was perfect,
Today we gave a performance that on the spirit side, the technical side, the drive of the whole team, on the style of the game we want to play everything was perfect despite a very bad start. I felt in the first five minutes Tottenham started well, after that it was all us for 85 minutes.