Sunday 7th November 1999. Anything familiar about that date? Well, that was the last time Sp*rs beat us in the League, at White Hart Lane! Over 10 years ago. 10 year of trying, and yet another chance for them to try and do one over us. They’re probably still smarting after we beat them 3-0 at the Grove, and with a chance to kill our title challenge and boost their Top 4 hopes, there was the extra motivation.
Team news as usual, meant an injury-hit team. With Cesc, Gallas and Arshavin already missing, Arsene confirmed Song will be out, missing the next game as well. So the starting line-up was:
Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
Denilson – Diaby
Eboue– Nasri – Rosicky
Best news though, was the return of one Robin van Persie, after 5 months. Wenger confirmed he was going to be on the bench, and it was absolutely great to see him!
So, the game. We started brightly, with Sol almost scoring in the 2nd minute, the effort off his knee being cleared of the line by Assou-Ekotto. It was all Arsenal really, Sp*rs not looking like scoring at all. Which ofcourse meant they would be the first team to score! They almost did through Pavyluchenko, but his effort was charged down by Vermaelen, and it was out for a corner. Almunia punched the corner out far, only for Danny Rose, making his Premier League debut, to volley it back over him from all of 30 yards! It pains me to say, but it was a brilliant strike. The only way they could have scored was via a spectacular strike, and that was definitely one, 10 minute in.
The goal shook us for a bit, but after the initial shock had passed, we were back dominating. But chances were few, though. We were doing generally well in defence and midfield, but we were lacking a bit of creativity and our play in the final third was ponderous, at best. We were lacking something.
And to make things worse, Vermaelen went down with an injury. It wasn’t from a bad tackle or anything, but he seemed to hurt his calf one way or the other. Not what you want when you’re chasing the game, and seeing Silvestre come on didn’t fill you with any confidence, whatsoever. So first and second-choice centre backs both out injured. Lovely.
We needed to go into half-time on level terms to give Sp*rs something to worry about, but it wasn’t to be. Our two best players were Sol and Clichy- they are both defenders, and there’s only so much they can offer in attack. Bentdner was trying hard, but he wasn’t getting too much service and was being marshalled well. He did have a chance, though, but his effort was weak and rolled just wide of the far post. It was more of the same until half-time, really. We dominated possession, but just couldn’t find that killer pass, or that extra bit of class.
We alwatys do much better in the second-half of games, so I was feeling a bit confident. Nothing like another goal to get things going. Shame it was another Sp*rs one! Gareth Bale this time, with his own first Premier League goal. But it was poor defending, nothing more! A poor attempt at off-side, Silvestre and Clichy not realising Sagna was playing Bale on-side. Very shoddy stuff, and totally not the way to start. No concentration whatsoever. Very disappointing and there was no one to blame, but ourselves.
Arsene threw Theo on for Sagna, but it didn’t make much of a difference. We still had problems getting in behind them. It was really frustrating at times though, as we were holding on to the ball too long in midfield. Not sure whether that was because of lack of movement or lack of confidence, or maybe it was both! At least there wasn’t too much of an attacking threat from Sp*rs, so if we could sort out our attack, the game was there for the taking. Another chance for Bendtner though, from a pass from Theo, but he dragged his shot just wide of the far post.
It took the introduction of Robin, 25 minutes from the end, to really spark us into life. And in his little cameo, you realised just what we’ve been missing, these past 5 months. He did more in 25 minutes than some others did in the whole 90 minutes. His first touch was sensational; like he hadn’t been out of action for 5 months. If only, right? It was a little emotional seeing him back on, once again. He’s such a leader in the team and he did the best he could, in that short period of time. We barely had any shots on target before he came on. According to the stats, 5 of our 6 shots on target only came after he came on. Most were by him, actually!
We could have gone on to win the match if not for Gomes, who made some really good saves. They all came in the last 10 minutes, though. The first one, from a stunning RvP effort. The ball was chipped into him by Diaby, he controlled it expertly on his chest and his volley on the turn was tipped away by Gomes. He had no right to get that shot away and it would have been one brilliant goal. He then took a free-kick from just outside the box. It was going into the top corner, but Gomes with the save! From the corner, Sol’s header was then tipped onto the bar by Gomes! The goal was coming, and it did. Robin fed Theo on the right, who then slid the ball perfectly for Bendtner to bundle in. As usual, we got our goal in the last 10 minutes, but we needed one more, if not two, for the win. We had 5 minutes to get it. But Gomes was there with yet another save from a Robin strike.
Tottenham were hanging on, but the match ofcourse, ended 2-1. Our urgency only came in the last 15 minutes, and if, only we’d shown such application from the start, we knows what would have happened?
So it was a disappointing night, the only bright sparks being Robin, Sol and Clichy. As expected, Sol was heckled from start to finish, but he responded the best way possible with an imperious performance. The most frustrating thing about Sp*rs is that they defended for their lives against us, but I’m sure when Chelsea come on Saturday, they’ll be back to their usual rubbish selves. And for that reason, I hope Chelsea stuff them. Properly. That might mean we won’t win the League, but our chances are pretty slim, anyways.
Arsene’s all but conceded the League, too:
“There is too much to do, yes. It is very unlikely now to win the League. But we will continue to fight and you never know. But tonight even a point would not have been enough, we needed three points.”
“Chelsea play Tottenham on Saturday. If Tottenham want to fight for the Champions League they can show they have the quality to do it.”
Arsene wasn’t too impressed with some players, too. Some didn’t pull their weight and were almost passengers:
“I would not like to go into any individual criticism tonight. We lost a game we couldn’t afford to lose in the title race and that shows that we are not mature enough because if you want to win the League, this kind of game you cannot lose.”
To make things worse, Tommy V’s out for 2-3 weeks with a calf strain; that’s practically the rest of the season. The injury jinx doesn’t seem like abating anytime soon. All we have left now is playing for pride, and I hope the last 4 games are all wins. Nothing less will do.
Anyways, what left to say is simple: enjoy your moment in the sun, Sp*rs; you’re next North London Derby win is not going to be for at least another decade. We await the DVD.
Ah, the DVD‘s arrived. How totally predictable and laughable!