Tottenham 5 (Jenas 3, Bendtner og 28, Keane 49, Lennon 60, Malbranque 90) Arsenal 1 (Adebayor 70)
Ouch. No matter what the occasion, no matter who the players, a 5-1 reverse to Spurs will always hurt, and rightly so. To claim that it doesn’t matter because it’s ‘only the Carling Cup’ or ‘only the reserves’ misses the point. Our kids are rightly lauded for their talents, and for players of quality, getting hammered is always painful irrespective of the context.
It was always going to be a tough night. Spurs had the upper hand in both recent matches at the Emirates without getting the results they merited, and they smelt blood last night as Wenger opted to field largely the same side as in the first leg, contrary to media reports claiming it was at full strength. Gallas and Sagna came into the defence due to everyone else being unavailable, while Hleb started in midfield.
As so often in North London derbies, it was Spurs who opened the scoring, Jenas finishing well after he was allowed to run unchallenged to the edge of the area. With no midfielder tracking him, and Hoyte standing off, he fired the opener in off the post.
Bendtner then got himself in the wrong position to head a free kick clear and ended up redirecting the ball past Fabianski, before Berbatov could’ve wrapped up the tie before half time, hitting the post when clean through (admittedly from an offside position).
At half time, Paul Merson said what we were all thinking – the side were playing as poorly as two weeks ago, and only substitutions or the bottling nature of Spurs could reverse their fortunes. With the next goal crucial, Fabianski let a Keane shot squirm through him and the tie was as good as over. When Lennon scored the goal of the night a bad defeat was turning into a humilation.
Adebayor came off the bench to score a cracking consolation, which served two purposes. Firstly, it scared the Spurs fans into thinking they could throw away a four goal lead, and secondly, it means that we will no longer be hearing the tiresome ‘Arsenal never lose when Adebayor scored’ statistic. Small mercies and all that.
Malbranque made the most of us pressing forward to tap in a fifth at the death, which put something of a flattering spin on the scoreline, on the night if not the tie as a whole. Over two matches, we have to admit that Spurs were far superior. And that hurts.
But it’s done with now, except for the sorting out of an apparent spat between Adebayor and Bendtner, for which Ade has apologised today. This result cannot be allowed to have an effect on the rest of the season, as we’ve seen before. Last year, we exited all three cup competitions in a matter of weeks, and with an enthusiastic Newcastle coming to town in the FA Cup at the weekend, there is danger of a repeat.
I suspect that Wenger would’ve played a semi first team on Saturday, saving a couple for the Premiership clash against the same opponents next week. The temptation now will be to ensure that this defeat is followed up with a win. That said, we have to have faith in these players – you cannot praise them as highly as we have over two years only to write them off after one poor defeat.
Analysing individual performances would be futile, as no-one stood out as playing particularly well or badly – everyone underperformed. The only point I would make is that, quite strangely, it was some of the regular first teamers who looked most uncomfortable, with Hleb and Sagna doing a fine impression of two players who had never played together before, while Gallas was out of sorts himself.
They say you learn more from defeat than victory. Let’s hope so, because nights like that hurt.