Friday, 11 January 2008

In Attendance: Carling Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg, Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur @ The Emirates Stadium, January 9th 2008

North London's great footballing divide was once again brought to the fore on wednesday evening. Historically, Arsenal and Tottenham are two of the biggest names in the country and have a fierce rivalry which is, in my opinion, one of the most bitter any football fan will encounter.

Tottenham were the original kings of North London until a bunch of interlopers from south of the river came and invaded their turf. Not only that, these unwanted guests went on to become far more successful than thier rivals and currently, Arsenal enjoy the kind of superiority over Spurs that has most gooners considering Spurs to be more of an irritant than a real threat.

But recent years have given an indication that the tide may be turning somewhat. In recent years, Arsenal have faded from the title picture and had it not been for a last day tragedy of Shakespearean proportions 2 years ago, Tottenham would have finished above Arsenal and clinched the much sought after champions league place and then who knows how different the fortunes of the two clubs would have been?

This season however, all indications seem to suggest that, for Arsenal fans at least, normal service has been resumed. Flying high, playing fantastic football, and a realistic shot at thier first league title since 2004. Meanwhile at White Hart Lane, there has been both managerial and boardroom unrest, player disatisfaction and poor results on the pitch. Arsenal have already done the double over Spurs and in doing so extended an unbeaten run in North London derby matches stretching back to 1999. When the Carling Cup semi final draw was made, Spurs would hardly be relishing the prospect of 2 more clashes with their illustrious rivals.

Incidently, Tottenham's last trophy, also in 1999, was in this same competition and suprisingly, was masterminded by George Graham an Arsenal legend both as player and manager. The team would also be galvanised for this game by the battling performance they gave at the Emirates a little over 3 weeks ago when they were unlucky to come away empty handed.

Arsenal on the other hand, despite their frequent presence in the latter rounds of this competition, clearly consider it to be bottom of their list of priorities in a season and generally choose to play 'the kids' instead of the first team. This second team however, is not to be underestimated as Tottenham themselves found to their cost last season. This time around, they knew there was no way they could make the same mistake...

As I stood on the platform at Euston waiting for the Victoria Line train to Finsbury park, I was wondering how the game would pan out. Spurs' new manager Juande Ramos is still very much an unknown proposition in this league. Would he go for the win or try and play out a draw or even be prepared to sacrifice a 1 goal defeat before going back to the lane?

My thoughts were interupted by the announcement that trains had been suspended due to 'problems' at Finsbury Park. Fighting at football? Never!

I wont bore you with tales of my journey but I eventually arrived at the magnificent Emirates Stadium with just minutes to spare. Or so I thought. The 'problems' had meant kick off was delayed by 15 minutes to allow people to get to the stadium.

I met up with a friend and his Dad and went into the stadium. Much is said about how the soul of the club is lost slightly when they decide to up sticks and move ground. The Emirates, as beautiful as it is, cannot really feel like home to fans that packed themselves into Highbury all those years. The history of the North Bank, Clock End and Art deco East Stand cannot be replaced. Esspecially not when sections of the ground are quite lazily named after colours.

We had back row seats in the lower tier of the BLUE quadrant and awaited the teams. As soon as the away fans' "COME ON YOU SPURS" chant was greeted by "F*** OFF YOU SPURS" from the home fans, you know the banter was going to be in great supply. Spurs had suprisingly dropped Paul Robinson in favour of Radek Cerny which natuarally has sparked rumours of a rift between player and manager. Arsenal, as expected, put out a second string team.

As the match kicked off, Arsenal started the brighter. For about 20 minutes, they stroked the ball around in the way we've all become accustomed to over the years. Retaining possesion well and not allowing their opponents a momments rest. Denilson put in a cross that presented Bendtner with a chance to open the scoring but his header lacked power.

The home supporters began to get a little arrogant and even "OLE"'d a lot of the passes. At least until Gilberto insisted on giving the ball away. Little details change the complexion of football matches. Young Polish keeper Lucaz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal often chose to distribute the ball short to his full-backs. On one occassion, Justin Hoyte on the right squared it back to Johan Djourou, where the young Swiss defender struggled under pressure from Robbie Keane and the unspeakably good Dimitar Berbatov and ultimately give the ball away.

From then on, it was all Tottenham. Berbatov was giving Djourou the runaround. Whenever Arsenal had the ball, possession was often squandered. The atrotious Gilberto was the main culprit. A quick word on the Brazilian: Gilberto's all round play last night truely exposed him for what he is, a fraud. For years, he's gotten away with the fact he's been alongside world class midfielders in Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas. Up against the raw Jamie O'Hara and the shocking Jermaine Jenas, Gilberto looked out of his depth,; something Arsene Wenger should be very concerned about.

Everytime Spurs had the ball you felt they could open Arsenal up. They should have taken the lead when Malbranque, who spent the game charging around like a headless chicken, put the ball wide with the goal at his mercy. And just to confirm the first miss was no fluke, he planted a free header wide of the mark after great work by Keane.

It was only a matter of time before Tottenham opened the scoring and after Berbatov toyed with Djourou, his pass found Keane who squared to Jenas (dear God) who scored! The first thing that dawned on me is that the two times I've seen Jenas in the flesh this season have resulted in 3 goals for the "England International". If you think that would change my opinion on his complete and utter uselessness, you'd be very wrong!

Keeping with mediocre players who are just not good enough, When I saw Philip Senderos was Arsenal captain, I thought that this was a game that Arsenal might not win. As the goal went in, and I saw this so-called captain hunched over with his hands on his hips staring at the floor, I knew that this was a game Arsenal WOULD NOT win. The Swiss' body language was a disgrace. His duty in situations like that should be to lift the team. If any Arsenal players were paying attention to what was essentially a surrender from Big Phil, then what motivation would they even have to try and get back in the game? Just goes to show that these days the captains armband is just a bit of fabric and means nothing save for the fact you get to walk out of the tunnel first and observe a coin toss.

Spurs were flying and didn't want half time to come such was their dominance. Arsene Wenger hauled off the useless Djourou and the ineffective van Persie and introduced Bacary Sagna and the in-form Eduardo.

This changed very little as Spurs continued to pile on the pressure. "JUST LIKE THE LIBRARY" and "SHALL WE SING A SONG FOR YOU" were belted out of the away end making reference to both the percieved lack of atmosphere at Arsenal home matches and the fact Spurs were leaving the gooners stunned silent.

Moments of sublime skill from Berbatov as he would frequently control balls out of the air like he had glue on his boots were alone worth the admission. Arsenal mistakenly gave the Bulgarian far, far too much space and on another day he may have punished them more.

However, no real chances were created - thanks in part the Aaron Lennon's lack of a left foot and delivery akin to a parapalegic postman - but you felt if anyone would get the game's second goal, it would be Spurs. Kevin-Prince Boateng was brought on for Malbranque to shore up the midfield alongside O'Hara and Jenas. Ramos might have done well to retain the former Fulham man's attacking threat but instead decided to exercise caution.

With little over 10 minutes to go however, I felt as though I had witnessed the kind of daylight robbery not unfamiliar to the infamous Seven Sisters Road that connects the two clubs... Arsenal somehow equalised!

Some nice work from Sanga feed Gilberto who instead of giving the ball away found Eduardo whose played a perfectly timed through ball to the feet of the preciously annonymous Theo Walcott. As the 'Boy Wonder' sped into the box, an attempted tackle by Lee Young Pyo saw the ball skip up and hit Walcott on what from my seat looked like his hand before beating the keeper and slowly, slowy finding its way into the net. The youngster cheekily celebrated if front of the Spurs fans who had been no doubt giving him abuse all game.

The Emirates errupted and the Spurs Faithful were greated with chants of "WHO ARE YA? WHO ARE YA?" which was a tad impolite!

Arsenal finally began to play but Spurs were still the ones who might have snatched the winner as substitue Jermanie Defoe, crap haircut and all decided he would rather rather star on the next football bloopers DVD by missing an open goal from less than 10 yards out.

Arsenal's last minute corner might have had some Tottenham hearts in mouths but it Jenas on the back post was fortunately able to prevent Arsenal winning the game...

Full time. Admitedly with hyperboly, I have to say, never has there been such an unjust result to a game of football. Spurs could rightly feel aggreived having dominated proceedings for so long in the match.

Theoretically, home advantage should see Spurs get that elusive win over Arsenal in the second leg in two weeks but there are no guarentees thanks to this obvious jinx. When the gooners fans sang "YOU'LL NEVER BEAT THE ARSENAL" at the end, a small part of every Tottenham fan actually believes it. To play this well and not win was criminal.

Final Score:
Arsenal 1 (Walcott, 78)
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Jenas, 37)

Attendance: 53,136

Man of The Match: Dimitar Berbatov - Too good for Arsenal's kids, maybe too good for Spurs. PLEEEEEEEEASE dont go to Man utd!

1 comment:

Amy Downes said...
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