Arsenal 4 (Silvestre 37, Gallas 46, Adebayor 64, Van Persie 68) Tottenham 4 (Bentley 13, Bent 67, Jenas 89, Lennon 90)
Absolutely unbelievable. For the majority of the game, we saw an Arsenal performance that was confirming us as genuine title contenders, a fast and fluent display that was slowly tearing Spurs to pieces. And then suddenly, we utterly and completely threw it away, in a manner that the rest of the challengers will no doubt be chuckling about this morning.
A full match report would be too long, but the goals were all notable for their own reasons, so I’ll go through those. Credit has to be given for Bentley’s opener, it was an audacious smash from 40 yards and executed with tremendous skill. Some will blame Almunia but I’m not amongst them – the ball swerved so viciously that no keeper would’ve kept that out.
No doubt Bentley will be harping on about this one for a long time, but the trouble with him is his lack of consistency, or perhaps even application. He has the talent, as he can prove in the big games, but before last night had contributed nothing to Tottenham’s season. Last night’s goal will fuel his ego, but don’t expect a run of good performances off the back of it.
The goal sparked an injection of pace into Arsenal, with Theo especially determined – I’ve never seen him with the bit between his teeth so much. He must’ve had four shots in the first twenty minutes and looked really up for the game.
But almost inevitably, the equaliser came from a set piece, thanks to Spurs being even worse at defending them than we are. Van Persie whipped it in, Gomes flapped, and Silvestre nodded home.
Second half, and Huddlestone gave away a stupid free kick, allowing Van Persie to whip in another cross for Gallas to head home this time. Soon after, the centre back pairing should’ve made it three when Silvestre missed an even easier header from another corner.
The third did come, though, and it was our only goal that can’t be attributed to atrocious defending. Van Persie played another magical ball through to Nasri, who lofted the ball over Gomes for Adebayor to pounce. It looked to be game over, but Huddlestone then fizzed a shot in that went through Almunia’s hands and into his face, rebounding kindly for Bent to tap home.
Their hope was short lived, as a minute later Hutton played a woeful backpass, Adebayor picking it up before feeding Van Persie for a well deserved goal. It knocked the stuffing out of Spurs, and the game relaxed. Substitutions were made, showboating began, and Spurs gave up.
And that is exactly the point – inside the last ten minutes, Spurs completely and utterly gave up the game. They were never going to earn their way back into it, because they had stopped trying. Unfortunately, Clichy, who had been brilliant all night, dallied over a pass and then fell over, Jenas picking the ball up before curling beyond Almunia. Four minutes of injury time remained, and you just had that feeling. Crucially, so did Spurs.
And so it proved. On a normal night, Modric’s shot wouldn’t have got a deflection and would’ve gone straight at Almunia. Or, the deflection would’ve taken it wide. But this wasn’t a normal night, and with Almunia covering the goal, the only way the goal could’ve happened was exactly the way it did – the shot deflected on to the post, Lennon tucking away the rebound. Items were thrown, colourful language was used, and had there been a cat, it would’ve been flying across the room.
It truly was unbelievable. This wasn’t like Hull, Fulham, or Sunderland. This was, at times, an electrifying performance that shredded Tottenham’s back line, but it was completely ruined by some abysmal defending. Almunia had a bad night, but he’s been so good recently that he can be forgiven. The real problem was the decision making in the final couple of minutes.
If you are two goals up going into injury time, you keep the ball – simple. Okay, the players sometimes relax, but certainly once one goal has been pulled back, you make damn sure you hold on to the ball when you have it. When you get a corner, as we did, you faff around wasting time by the flag. And this wasn’t inexperience – the worst pass played in those moments was actually from Cesc, of all people. From him giving the ball away, Spurs broke and scored.
This was a freak game, like those Liverpool-Newcastle ones of old, and no doubt it will go down as a Premiership classic. The irony is – that performance would batter Spurs 99 times out of 100 – we were really really good. But in those final few seconds, we contrived to wreck it all.
In the worst of times I am an optimist, but even that is challenged by madness like we saw last night. We’re used to Spurs providing comedy defending. But we are not Spurs.