What a fantastic match. While commentators at Goodison Park were remarking that the game they were watching, which United pinched 1-0 late on, was evidence that lunchtime games should be scrapped, an epic was unfolding at White Hart Lane, which, had the finishing been of the same quality as some of the build up play, could’ve ended in a similar result to Martin Jol’s first derby in charge – a 5-4 classic still talked about today.
Ironically, yesterday’s is likely to be the last derby Jol takes charge of, an indication of how little time has changed, despite the continued optimism of Spurs fans everywhere. The truth is that their side, assembled for nearly twice the price of the Arsenal team, plus a wider gap on the bench, ended the game demoralised and outclassed.
For a long time, however, this was a game that could’ve gone either way. Once Bale had curled in a first half free kick, Robinson backed him up by making a few decent saves, albeit all ones you would expect a ‘top class’ keeper to make. At half time, a goal behind again, many Gooners would’ve taken a draw. But Arsenal are made of sterner stuff these days, and despite a host of missed chances, including Diaby smashing a sitter against the bar and Adebayor ballooning Sagna’s pull back over from eight yards, you always got the feeling that the opposition would crack sooner or later.
And so they did. But not before Berbatov should’ve doubled the lead, rounding Almunia and attempting to do the same to Toure before the Ivorian made a magnificent saving tackle. He paid for it with 25 minutes left, Fabregas whipped in a curling free kick from the left, and Adebayor powered home a determined header. It probably would’ve gone in even had the goal been properly defended by Robinson, but the man with the gloves had committed himself to the cross and gotten nowhere near it. Ade ran behind the goal, past the furious Spurs fans, to the delighted away fans in the corner. Game on.
As the match approached the last ten minutes, the critical phase began. First Berbatov cracked a volley straight into the chest of Clichy, then appealed for a handball in desperation. Minutes later, Arsenal were in front. Rosicky found Fabregas in space thirty yards from goal. Not one defender moved towards him, so he closed in on goal and cracked a fantastic shot past Robinson’s despairing right hand. His celebration said it all, as the Spurs players sank to their knees and their fans put their heads in their hands.
Cesc’s fifth goal of the season, and perhaps most important so far, eclipsed his entire tally for last term. Given that his lack of goals was the only criticism levelled at him, is he, still only 20, now the complete midfielder?
But still it wasn’t over. Bent came on as a substitute, and as he ran on to a chipped ball over the top, had a wonderful chance to secure the same late 2-2 draw Spurs pinched in last season’s corresponding fixture. But Bent proved that he really was overpriced by horribly scuffing his shot wide. Minutes later, he was shown the true art of finishing, by a man often derided for exactly that. After Denilson’s weak shot was easily saved, Fabregas found Adebayor, who, with his back to goal flicked the ball up with his first touch, and then in one movement span and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner. It was a thing of beauty, and once again emphasised the difference in class between the sides.
Some will criticise the defensive fragility of the display, despite a jetlagged Gilberto having to fill in at centre back with Senderos suspended and Gallas injured. Some will say that Spurs could’ve got a result with better finishing. But the truth is that chances went begging at both ends, and the home defence was cut apart by the majestic Fabregas almost at will. Last season, away deficits were so rarely recovered, but there is something different about the team this time around. Late goals are often the mark of champions, which suggests that Man United, who slipped into the top bracket almost unnoticed this weekend, and Arsenal, who now sit top with a game in hand, will be right up there at the end.
As for Spurs, their problems couldn’t be plainer. Robinson was at fault for the first goal, yet again, while no defender competed with Adebayor for the header. For Cesc’s winning goal, the same defence sat off a man in goalscoring form, a mistake even a schoolboy would feel wrath for. At the other end, much of their finishing was woeful, and by the end even Berbatov looked like he just didn’t want to be there anymore.
For all those with Spurs fans in the office, dig out their quotes from around a month ago, and enjoy your Monday morning. I know I will.