Yet another Spurs versus Arsenal El Clásico
Well that was rather special, wasn’t it?
Is there a more enthralling, pulsating fixture in the domestic calendar than the North London Derby? Dramatic twists and turns, excellent attacking football, quality finishing all glued together with blood and thunder desire. Once again we bounced back. Once again they lost their grip on the game. You could hardly look away, other than perhaps for a brief second to momentarily ease the beats of your brutalised heart. Mentality and physically exhausting, the dvd will surely include a parental warning on its sleeve.
Okay so whether you’re white or red you’ll agree a draw was hardly the best result in terms of accumulating the points to achieve the goal each club aspires to in the run-in. Arsenal are hardly out of the challenge for the title, mathematically speaking. And regardless of the stalemate, beating Manchester City away remains the end-game task we have ahead of us, as long as we don’t drop points to our determent in comparison to City and their remaining fixtures.
Could we have won it? Sure. Had perhaps Modric made it four with his foot rather than seeing the ball hit his shin and saved. Sandro's effort too had it been perhaps an inch to the right of Szczesny might have found its way in. The Arsenal keeper coming to their rescue again with saves from Crouch and van der Vaart in what was a far better second half of football for us than the first.
They could argue the same thing though. They could have won it too.
Hindsight would probably have seen me select Sandro from the start to stop Arsenal from over-running us in midfield as he would have been far more comfortable with breaking up play and generally being a nuisance and menace. To have had him playing the simple ball, recycling possession effectively and without fuss might have balanced things out in our favour and frustrated the opposition. But then it’s from a place of comfort after the event to perhaps look back and be critical of selection. And to play devil’s advocate, Sandro was guilty of one sleepy pass that might have proved costly. But hey, we’re all human.
I was more content with the line-up. van der Vaart, Pavlyuchenko and Crouch in the same team gave us a foil and a more dynamic dimension when pushing forwards rather than perhaps having the one striker ahead of the Dutchman. Perhaps working better on paper than in practice, with the Russian on the outside looking in for most of the game. Across the full ninety perhaps Pav didn’t have the impact you’d have wished for but he worked hard. Crouch hassled and vdV buzzed. Modric was anything but lightweight (but was pushed once or twice to the floor joining Bale down there) as he did his very best to take the stranglehold back off the impressive Fabregas in an attempt to control tempo in our favour.
It didn’t actually start to pull in our direction until after that stunning first forty-five.
The very definition of a ding-dong derby. 0-1 in five minutes, 1-1 after seven, 1-2 after twelve, 1-3 after forty and then 2-3 at the forty-four minute mark. And breath.
Not taking anything away from Arsenal who scored three goals that were deserving for their effort, but once more, there are post-mortems for each one that are labelled ‘should have done better’. Hand on heart, they caused us a multitude of problems but punches were thrown in-between the goal-scoring with both sides having telling efforts.
As for those post-mortems.
Henry-lite runs onto a brilliant pass from the annoyingly good Fabregas and passes the ball into the net. We lost the ball cheaply in midfield (Huddlestone) and were duly punished for it with a combination of mistakes that played out to aid Arsenal. Gallas rushing out initially leaving a gap that then saw Dawson play the offside and BAE caught playing Walcott onside. There’s a certain level of composure and concentration that is required at all times otherwise counters like this can leave you looking up to the heavens for a pray. Hardly the definition of defensive unity. Delightful celebration by Theo.
Two minutes later and its game on. Corluka with the ball into the path of van der Vaart who majestically found the back of the net at Szczeny’s near post, on his weaker foot too. The celebration cancelling out the earlier one. Arsenal perhaps if they wish to be harsh on their keeper can point to that near post and suggest a shot should not be sneaking in from there. Did I mention the celebration? I did? I'll mention it again. Sssh.
Should Dawson have stood up (get up, stand up...) rather than attempt to block a shot that might not have been released had he got tighter or am I distracting attention away from the quality of the shot from Nasri which took a slight deflection off Michael as it flew past Gomes? Good finish, but it felt like it should have been defended better. We just sat back and watched Nasir buzz about outside the box. Will not be too critical of Gomes here, I know some of you are. I guess philosophically, if a player has a crack from that sort of distance you have to give him his due if he finds the net.
At this point you’ll have probably given up. Had you perhaps been watching any other game other than the NLD. Gallas at fault I hate to say it. Far too casual. Chesting the ball down into the path of Walcott who dinked the ball wonderfully back into the path of Robin van Persie who had a couple of attempts to make it three. The first (a header) superbly saved, but alas, the second emphatically finished as the ball came back to van Persie. I guess some of you would have wanted Gomes to catch it with one hand, ala Jennings?
Just before the break we're back in it. There was a time in the past when we would concede a goal before half-time and find ourselves on the back-foot in the second forty-five, but this was not only a life-line but perhaps the most telling moment that probably invited doubt into the minds of our mentally fragile neighbours. With Bale off for treatment (thanks to two collisions with the winking Szczensy) Fabregas failed to clear convincingly and the ball was erotically struck by Huddlestone, hitting the ground and going through the jump of van der Vaart and past the keeper who hardly moved, apart from perhaps blinking.
There was still time for a penalty shout. Frantic stuff. Not given, could have been. We've seen less go for us and against us in the past. But then the footballing Gods didn’t want to spoil us too much, preferring to retain some drama for when the players returned to the pitch.
Half-time. And two changes. Bale (cluttered once too often) and Corluka off. Kaboul and Lennon on.
Physicality notched up a level, yellow cards dished out to the visitors with some blood spilt (Wenger did predict that) and even some time for the introduction of Wilshere to be told to shut up by vdV, which will probably give him something to tweet about post-game. Nutmeg anyone?
If we survived during the first 45 we gradually took hold of the second, although it was still littered with remainders that for every couple of chances we crafted out, they could have done better with theirs. Offside goal disallowed that might not have been offside (did Gomes play to the whistle? I think he did and half gave up when he heard it). Walcott also making the wrong decision with a cross-shot shot that didn't hit the target or find one of his team-mates.
Far more confident possession and intent from us. Proactive rather than reactive, with Arsenal on the back-foot more often than not but still dangerous. Next goal ‘wins’ it then.
If Modric made us tick, and van der Vaart was outstanding leading us forwards there was BAE, as cool and calm as you like, he might as well have been on the beach in Brazil than at White Hart Lane in the midst of a NLD. Open invitation for Alan Hansen to review past comments. Absolutely on the money from the pimp master. Distribution was solid and classy and sexy and when others lost their cool around him he made sure he was ever reliable at key moments. The ball for Lennon deserving of a goal. Instead we got a penalty out of it. Still ended up with a goal. Szczesny committing himself with little option other than to take down Aaron. Cool as you like, van der Vaart from the spot for his brace. Hero.
Wenger animated on the bench (did I see a moment of monty python at one point?). Harry believing we’d probably get another. Oh for the love of all things wonderful on God’s green earth, it could have been four. Modric failing to connect cleanly. Then followed some neat saves from Gomes (not to be left bored at the other end) and those Crouch and Sandro efforts teasing all that watched, but a winner wasn’t to be for either side.
Stalemate, but hardly stale. 3-3 at the final whistle. And to think there were one or two people at home tuned in to watch Real Madrid v Barcelona.
What does it mean for us? Not much, nothing has really changed. We still have plenty of games left to take back fourth spot but each one of them has to be played like it’s do or die. No complacency. No more mistakes. And perhaps some bravery from Harry in selection too. We have to consider that we might end up drawing at Chelsea and at Eastlands which means its the results in the other fixtures that will seal our fate. Forget about the points dropped, we have no other choice but to look forwards and to continue to believe we can make it.
We’ve come a long way. We’re no longer push-overs, we can take a punch and we can land a hay-maker of our own. But much like Arsenal we have gaps that need to be filled. We have the mental strength and the tenacity these days. Just need one or two additions and perhaps more of the shrewd from the gaffer.
One thing is for certain, we’re not the Tottenham of old, the team that rolled over like a cute puppy to be sat on by the bigger badder dog who hardly took notice if the little one. Guess the puppy grew up and took a massive bite out of its aggressor.
Arsenal must not be our benchmark (beating Man Utd remains the bane) but it’s a pretty nifty way of measuring our standard of competitiveness. The fact we've beaten them twice in the league recently and probably feel a little disappointed we didn't nick it last night places us pound-for-pound on the night, on equal pegging. Be it a few points off in the Prem to class it as a head-to-head.
We need to fill those gaps before they do.
We no longer fear. Other than dithering in the transfer window.
Tighten it up Tottenham. We're disappointed we didn't win. They're happy with the point. A sign of the times. Not to ruin the spectacle, but that's the crux of it. Even though I was happy with the line-up, it wasn't the perfect selection (hindsight) and finding ourselves three one down is hardly the best way to compete in a game we should have looked to win. But perhaps that's a touch too negative and harsh. Mistakes found us in that position, hardly errors of selection. Perhaps it is a benchmark after-all. When we find ourselves 3-1 up to the good against them, then it will truly be a sign that we've stepped it up once more.
Until then we need to improve our record against lower placed sides. We hardly ever lose at home in the league, and those dropped points remain the difference between sitting in 5th and potentially being 3rd or 2nd as top tier clashes evidently can cancel each others hopes out.
Cracker of a game and another classic to add to the rest of them. London owns it again.