Spurs 3 (Van der Vaart 7, pen 70, Huddlestone 44) Arsenal 3 (Walcott 5, Nasri 12, Van Persie 40)
So that is that – mathematically it is not over, but realistically we all know the title challenge is now dead in the water after a crazy match at White Hart Lane which swung from us being in complete control to being relieved to escape with a point. I actually thought both sides raised their game to produce an enthralling match that in reality did neither side any favours, and in the end a draw was probably a fair result.
Although this is the match that probably finally extinguished our hope, when you look at the last couple of months as a whole, it isn’t this one that hurt us – the costly matches are those that have come before. In isolation, drawing away at Spurs is not a bad result, especially when you consider how well they played in the second half, but the draws at home to Blackburn, Sunderland and Liverpool have hit hard. Win two of those games and we’re a home win against United from topping the table.
I have a feeling that by the morning there will be quite the backlash against this Arsenal team for losing yet another two goal lead, but ironically this is perhaps the one occasion where such vilification would be unjustified. Spurs scored one wonder goal to get back to 3-2 and controlled much of the second half. Despite that, we actually defended very well, Szczesny making some excellent saves but blotting his copybook by conceding the decisive penalty, losing a footrace with Lennon and bringing him down. In fairness to the Pole, he didn’t retreat into his shell, and were it not for the saves that followed we could have come away with nothing.
In the past, we’ve failed to close out matches because of complacency, lack of effort, or panic. None of those traits were on display tonight, Spurs were just excellent coming forward and tested us repeatedly, eventually breaking us down. Similarly, it was our most flowing attacking display in a while, particularly in the first half, and it was perhaps our inability to keep that pace going in the second half that ultimately cost us.
The first half was breathless stuff. Walcott scored the opener after five minutes, slotting home from a Cesc pass, but Spurs were level within minutes, Van der Vaart finishing coolly. Remarkably, it was 2-1 after 12 minutes, Nasri firing through Dawson’s legs to catch Gomes before he was set, but we all knew the scoring was far from complete. Both sides had further chances before the half ended with the two best goals of the game.
First Theo did brilliantly after Gallas had miscontrolled Sagna’s cross, digging out a cheeky chipped ball that Van Persie buried at the second attempt, but any hopes of taking a two goal lead into half time ended when Spurs scored the wonder goal they always reserve for this fixture – this year it was Huddlestone driving a half-volley into the corner to make it 3-2 at half time.
Either side could make a case that they deserved to go on and win – Van Persie had a goal wrongly chalked off for offside at 3-2, and Cesc forced a top save from Gomes at 3-3. But equally, Szczesny denied Van der Vaart his hattrick and also saved well from Sandro late on. In the end, neither set of fans can realistically complain about a lack of effort or quality, and neither team can decisively say they were the better team overall. 3-3 is probably fair.
As I said earlier, under normal circumstances the draw would be readily accepted by both sets of fans. But in context, it is painful – we had to win to stay on United’s coattails, and Spurs needed three points to stay in touch with City. It isn’t mathematically over, and we have to keep fighting until the end (not least to finish above Chelsea), but in all likelihood that is it.
I’m glad that we went out fighting, I’m glad that Cesc confounded his illogical critics by putting in a superb fighting display, and I’m glad that despite his error tonight, we’ve found ourselves a keeper for the next decade. I’m gutted that we’re going to end a promising season without a trophy, but I’m willing to argue with anyone who thinks that we need a change of manager or captain. Some things need to change, but some things do not.