Barclays Premier League
Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur

 

Louis Saha's effort early on deflected in off Thomas Vermaelen to give Spurs an early lead which counted for little in the end

 

By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from the Emirates Stadium

 

A Robin Van Persie-inspired Arsenal staged a remarkable and rapid turnaround to crush North London rivals Tottenham in a highly-charged derby which was one of the matches of the season at the Emirates.

Spurs looked to be in the ascendancy with an early Louis Saha goal and a penalty kick from Emmanuel Adebayor on his 28th birthday giving them a 2-0 lead within thirty-four minutes but the Gunners came back before half-time with a well-guided Bacary Sagna header and shortly after a delicious Robin Van Persie effort from twenty yards levelled matters. The eye-catching Tomas Rosicky completed the comeback after 51 minutes as Harry Redknapp's side switched off on more than one occasion in an absorbing second-half with the apprehensive Theo Walcott bagging a double of his own to kill off their neighbours and cut the gap between the two rivals to seven points.

The home side, who had won their last two Premier League games, made six changes to the team which was dumped out of the FA Cup at Sunderland last Saturday. Among those returning to the side were regular goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny, the only ever-present in an ever-changing Gunners side this season, and Theo Walcott. The return to full fitness of defenders Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs would have been welcomed with open arms by Arsene Wenger who was without Aaron Ramsey through a sprained knee. Carl Jenkinson was back on the bench after a long lay-off while surprisingly the Frenchman opted for experience over youth with Benayoun starting ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain while Andrey Arshavin this week rejoined Russian club Zenit St Petersburg on loan for the rest of the season.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp made seven switches to the eleven which was duly held by League One Stevenage in their fifth round tie of the FA Cup at Broadhall Way a week ago with many first-team players returning to oust some of the fringe and young players out who were given an opportunity. Only Niko Kranjcar, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Louis Saha kept their places as the boss made some important decisions- firstly in his formation which contained two forwards and the choice to leave Aaron Lennon, Rafael Van der Vaart and Jermain Defoe among the substitutes. Adebayor, King, Modric and Assou-Ekotto had all shaken off niggles to start the 150th league meeting between the two sides.

The first noteable action of the match was the first goal after just four minutes for Tottenham as many Spurs fans will be giving credit where credit is due towards referee Mike Dean who played a good advantage when Robin Van Persie had been signalled by the linesman's flag for offside but with Spurs in possession the game was waved on by the man in the middle. Even so early on in the game, the Arsenal defence was stretched with gaps opening as soon as Vermaelen was drawn out of the middle as the French striker Saha made it three goals in three Tottenham games since moving from Goodison Park in January although his low effort took a wicked deflection off the Belgian centre-back to deceive Szczesny in the cruelest of ways from an Arsenal perspective.

Going into the match, Arsene Wenger was under huge pressure after two more back-to-back defeats to Sunderland and before that a 4-0 hammering by AC Milan in the Champions League knock-out round first leg in the San Siro. In contrast, for the first time in many a year Spurs were the dominant force in North London and were ahead of all of the other London teams in the Premier League table- most importantly ahead of Chelsea and Arsenal. In addition, there was a lot of trepidation from Gunners supporters regarding the spirit and togetherness among the Arsenal ranks and whether it was time for a new manager to lead a project into the future. It was exactly a year to the day that Arsenal had lost embarrassingly to Birmingham City in the 2011 Carling Cup final.

In general play, Spurs had started well looking direct with a front two who have a tendancy to be a real handful on their day in Adebayor and Saha upfront. Moreover they were lining up against a backline of Arsenal's which is arguably the strongest defence at the club yet it is the first occasion since the opening day draw at Newcastle that they have started together.


? DID YOU KNOW ?

Arsenal haven't won any of the last eleven matches that Mike Dean has refereed including last season's Carling Cup final loss to Birmingham.


In general play, Spurs had started well looking direct with a front two who have a tendancy to be a real handful on their day in Adebayor and Saha upfront. Moreover they were lining up against a backline of Arsenal's which is arguably the strongest defence at the club yet it is the first occasion since the opening day draw at Newcastle that they have started together. Referee Dean spread his arms when a question of handball or not rose on eight minutes when Kieran Gibbs advanced into the box and went down easily with Kyle Walker around him.

There was the obvious threat of Spurs on the counter attack with the pace of Gareth Bale in particular down the left hand side and the silky footballers such as Parker and Modric were able to get the ball forward quickly with numbers committing forward as it was a very slow start from the Gunners. After fourteen minutes, they did have a decent opportunity when Sagna, who was severely injured when the two sides met at White Hart Lane back in October, played the ball into the box and Van Persie whose shot was came off Kaboul who he had tried to turn and didn't go past the post by much. The lack of creativity in midfield had been a problem for the home team who couldn't get enough of the ball or get balls into the box for Van Persie to try and attack with Walcott and Benayoun uninvolved in the opening twenty minutes for an Arsenal side who hadn't won a North London derby since a 3-0 home win in October 2009.

Spurs continued with their early push and once again Bale was the architect as he got a yard on Bacary Sagna on the flank and dug out a cross which the Croatian international Kranjcar headed too high over getting underneath the ball. Van Persie had another effort deflected behind off Kaboul following an effective throw-in routine again involving Bacary Sagna at the heart of it. From the resulting corner, the influential Rosicky crept off the front post and got a good contact on the header but was foiled by the left hand of 40-year old stopper Brad Friedel who reacted well to help over the bar- the oldest ever player to feature in a North London derby. It was a decent reaction from Arsenal who were coming into the game as it progressed.

There wasn't a great deal of the attractive football on view that these two gracious footballing sides serve up on a weekly basis in the first half. The first yellow card was handed out on 29 minutes to Parker who slid through Van Persie getting on top of the ball.

Spurs, who had to come from two goals behind in the corresponding fixture last season before extraordinarily going on to win 3-2, had the luxury of a two-goal cushion themselves after thirty-four minutes when the referee pointed to the penalty spot after a glorious pass from Luka Modric got Gareth Bale away who accelerated before falling to the ground making the award a soft one as Szczesny's gloves came towards him but moved at the last second before contact was made with the Welshman- who will be part of the squad for the emotional midweek friendly with Costa Rica in memory of Gary Speed. It was a similar situation to the penalty at White Hart Lane last season involving Aaron Lennon and Wojech Szczesny in the 3-3 draw last April where the young Pole had a rush of blood to come off his line. Former Gunners star Adebayor, who scored eight goals for Arsenal against Spurs in derbies, stepped up and coolness personified made no mistake whatsoever.

Both teams knew there was a lot at stake and knew the importance of picking up points in this one as they headed into big games coming up next weekend as Arsenal travel to Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime while Tottenham host champions Manchester United at White Hart Lane next Sunday.

You would have had to look hard for to find an Arsenal player on top of their game so far and Theo Walcott suddenly had plenty of space to run into just minutes after the Adebayor penalty but showed a complete lack of confidence to run with the ball at his feet and get closer to goal as he passed into the feet of Van Persie who had four Spurs players around him and in doing so passed on the responsibility. Although they pulled one back with five minutes of the first half remaining which came about after Van Persie had smacked the base of the Spurs post with the ball remaining in play and retrieved by Gibbs. Arteta clipped in a cross which was firmly met by Bacary Sagna with power to guide beyond Brad Friedel who didn't get to even sniff it before it had gone past him as the Frenchman scored his first ever goal at the Emirates to make things interesting as they halved the deficit. This left them on the front foot.

The game was back level somehow just three minutes later in a quick-fire recovery as the game was turned completely on its head as a piece of genius from the skipper shellshocked the Tottenham players who couldn't believe it. Spurs failed to clear away the danger and the Reliant Robin bent in a beautiful effort on his favoured left foot for his 23rd Premier League goal of the season to get the Emirates alive again.

 

? DID YOU KNOW ?

Emmanuel Adebayor became only the second player since Jimmy Robertson to score for both Arsenal and Tottenham in a North London derby.

 

The unpredictability of the games involving the so-called "Big Four" games this season was certainly applying to this game with the game locked at half-time and you could toss a coin to decide the outcome at half-time. Spurs made a double change at half-time reverting back to five men in midfield as Sandro and Van der Vaart came on for Kranjcar and Saha to match Arsenal's 4-3-3 system where the home team were getting a little bit of joy.

It was a fasten your seatbelts sort of match as Benayoun worked Friedel inside the first thirty seconds of the second half. And the match took another extraordinary twist as Tomas Rosicky scored for the first time in the Premier League in two years as Spurs defended poorly as Sagna was allowed to overlap and cross low into the near post where Rosicky found a nimble finish to touch it past the goalkeeper as the visitors started to suffer badly. The roles were reversed from the match here last season where a Spurs team came from two behind to win on Arsenal patch for the first time since 1977- the last time they won back-to-back away matches at the Gunners was back in the early 1930s.

The high-tempo was working well in Arsenal's favour and they went about making the scoreline healthier with Rosicky passing through to Walcott who looked to take the ball into his stride in the right channel and drove wide right footed. Modric meanwhile was slightly lucky to still be on the pitch with Mike Dean using the experience of officiating four previous North London derbies by leaving the cards in his pocket after the Croatian playmaker cynically cropped Song while already carrying a yellow card.

The Arsenal of old looked to come back as they continued to compel with a classic counter up the pitch as Van Persie showed his strength as well as vision in a one vs two situation before playing in Walcott whose first touch took him further away from the goal before delicately lifting over Friedel to unbelievably net his first home league goal since December 2010 against Chelsea to make it 4-2 on 65 minutes. It really was a magnificent comeback as Arsenal looked dead and buried at 2-0 down but were playing better as a team which was key.

Spurs- who haven't done the league double against Arsenal since the early 1980s- had beaten the Gunners 2-1 in the previous meeting this season at White Hart Lane with young full-back Kyle Walker, the only right-back at the club at present, netting a screamer but they didn't know what had hit them as a delightful pass from Alex Song opened things up as Kaboul stepped up in the hope of playing Walcott offside but did so to no avail as the speedy England winger gave the watching interim England coach food for thought ahead of Wednesday's friendly with the Netherlands as a glided finish gave him a second goal in just over two minutes to give the Gunners an unassailable lead which was pleasurable for the fans after another week of mulling over a bad result and the post-mortem of a competition exit. The three-goal cushion also took them above Chelsea into fourth spot following their 3-0 win over Bolton yesterday.

Jenkinson received some minutes on the pitch to come on at left-back for Gibbs for the final quarter of an hour while Walcott and Rosicky interchanged but the Czech Republic international couldn't get the ball into the bottom corner with his left-footed shot travelling wide by a couple of inches. Arsenal confidently passed the ball around as a wounded Tottenham looked ordinary in the second period. The Spurs misery was compounded with a second yellow and red card for Scott Parker meaning he misses the Manchester United clash as he was late on Vermaelen with the ball long gone leaving the referee with little choice but to flash both of the different coloured cards at the recently chosen England player of the year for 2011.

 

ANALYSIS
Adam Higgins
The Football Site-  Chief Football Editor

"It was a really good match to watch- I always enjoy the unpredictability of the North London derby. In the last two or three years, we have seen Tottenham grow stronger in this fixture under Harry Redknapp and for them to have a 2-0 lead here, they were just in dreamland. It was the perfect start for Spurs and in contrast a disastrous one for the Gunners. Just like last season in this fixture, the side that had the two goal cushion and had a fabulous first half didn't go on to win the game and Spurs certainly lost their concentration in the second half. Robin Van Persie was once again the key player but there were more players involved today which is what has perhaps been lacking in recent months for Arsene Wenger. We haven't seen many games where more than two or three players have stepped up to the plate. Rosicky and Walcott were terrific and Arteta as well as Alex Song looked good too in midfield. The Parker red card was a little harsh and it has severe consequences in terms of next week's match whereby he will now miss the crucial game with Manchester United."

 

 

Sunday 26th February 2012

Barclays Premier League

Emirates Stadium

 

Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur                              KO 1:30pm               (HT 2-2)

Sagna 40            Saha 4
Van Persie 43      Adebayor 34 (pen)
Rosicky 52
Walcott 65, 68

 

Arsenal:  13 Szczesny- 7/10, 3 Sagna- 7.5/10, 5 Vermaelen- 6.5/10, 6 Koscielny- 7/10, 28 Gibbs- 7/10 (Jenkinson 75- 2.5/10), 8 Arteta- 7.5/10, 17 Song- 7.5/10, 7 Rosicky- 8.5/10, 14 Walcott- 8/10 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 81- 2/10), 10 Van Persie (C)- 9/10, 30 Benayoun- 6.5/10 (Gervinho 88- 1.5/10).

Subs not used:  21 Fabianski, 49 Miquel, 9 Park Chu-Young, 29 Chamakh

Booked:      Koscielny (31), Arteta (42), Van Persie (78)

 

Tottenham:  24 Friedel- 6/10, 28 Walker- 6.5/10, 4 Kaboul- 5.5/10, 26 King (C)- 6/10 (Dawson 82- 2.5/10), 32 Assou-Ekotto- 6/10, 21 Kranjcar- 6/10 (Van der Vaart 45- 6.5/10), 8 Parker- 7/10, 14 Modric- 7/10, 3 Bale- 7/10, 10 Adebayor- 7.5/10, 15 Saha- 5.5/10 (Sandro 45- 6/10).

Subs not used:  23 Cudicini, 25 Rose, 7 Lennon, 18 Defoe

Booked:      Parker (29), Modric (29), Sandro (61)

Sent-off:    Parker (87)

 

My Man of the Match:    Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)- Rating 9/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:    Younes Kaboul (Tottenham)- Rating 5.5/10

 

 

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)- 8/10
Attendance: 60,106

 

 

Match Facts


Possession: Arsenal- 56%               Tottenham- 44%

Shots: Arsenal- 21                Tottenham- 8

Shots on target: Arsenal- 13               Tottenham- 4

Shots off target: Arsenal- 8                 Tottenham- 4

Corners: Arsenal- 7                   Tottenham- 5

Fouls: Arsenal- 15                 Tottenham- 12

Offside: Arsenal- 0                       Tottenham- 2

Assists: Arsenal- Arteta, Song (2), Sagna, Van Persie                 Tottenham- Adebayor, Bale




Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

"It was a performance full of everything you want from your team. It had team spirit, technique, resilience. It was an exciting game, we had a difficult start but kept going and showed great character again today. When you're 2-0 down against a team in front of you with the quality they have, you need something exceptional. Harry (Redknapp) and Tottenham have had an excellent season and it was always going to be a difficult match as it is against Spurs and the fans expect a performance. We refused to lose today, we kept going and in the end I think we had too much quality and drive. I don't think it is a four-gone conclusion that Tottenham will finish ahead of us. Mathematically we can come back. If we're consistent, anything is possible. Today shows that Arsenal is alive more than anybody thought before the game,” said Wenger. “We had a performance today where the technical side and drive of the team was perfect. Everything was perfect despite a very bad start. I think tottenham started well for the first five minutes, after it was all us for 85 minutes. We were determined to win. We had a great spirit. It is still possible to finish above Tottenham if we keep our run going. It is possible but it will be down to consistency. Everybody in the Premier League now can lose points. The crowd was starting to get on the back of Theo (Walcott). You don’t know whether to do him a favour by taking him off or leave him on. I felt he had the qualities to get behind defenders. He’s a very direct player. Sometimes he misses a first touch but i felt it was important to keep him in the team for the balance of our side. We had a good balance between offence and defence, we had creativity and went into the space behind defenders. I felt it was a performance of real maturity."


Click here to hear the thoughts of Gunners boss Arsene Wenger

 


Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp

"We've got to come back like we did earlier in the season. We need to bounce back and recover. The problem is that everyone is going to various parts of the world to play international games. They don't come back until Friday so there's hardly anyone in all week. It's crazy build-up to massive games at this stage of the season and with us playing Manchester United next weekend. Without Scott Parker, that is going to be hard, it has been a sensational season for him and he will be a miss next week that's for sure. It's difficult with the schedule that's ahead. We've got people going to Mexico. One lad is off to New Zealand on a 34-hour flight. Van Persie with the second goal was amazing. He had a foot to aim in and stuck it in the top corner. I am a little disappointed with the room he was given but he is a top class footballer you have to remember. They had a bit of quality about them today. They were busy in the middle of the park. It was one of those days for us. We weren't the same as we have been this season. It was a one-off, we have been defending well but that wasn't the case today."


Click here to hear the thoughts of Spurs boss Harry Redknapp


Click here for a pre-match debate between north London derby legends


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