Arsenal 3 (van Persie 41, Fabregas 42, van Persie 60)
My goodness that felt good.
After all their pre-match talking Tottenham were made to look like utter chumps as Arsenal’s magic attacking mix put three answered goals to ensure the first North London Derby of the season went our way. I can still taste the sugar.
I said before the game that this was a contest where our big guns needed to step up and Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas certainly did, posting a pair of quickfire goals just before the break to effectively end the match as a contest. Van Persie got a second midway through the second half to put the icing on the cake and it could have been much more as Eduardo in particular contrived to miss a couple of nailed-on chances.
The starting team sent out by Arsene Wenger was very similar to the one which failed to beat West Ham last weekend, with two significant changes being the return of Manuel Almunia in goals and Nicklas Bendtner’s continuation on the right side of the attack at the expense of Emmanuel Eboue. Clearly the manager’s decision to bring back Almunia was based on a need for experience in what is usually an explosive encounter while Bendtner’s recall was as much about nullifying Peter Crouch on set-pieces as it was about the Dane’s attacking qualities.
As it was, Bendtner was Arsenal strongest attacking performer in the opening half-hour before being forced off with what looked like a painful groin injury. The Dane’s endeavour helped fashion chances for Andrey Arshavin, William Gallas and van Persie as well as the best opportunity of the first third of the game when Fabregas was denied by a truly wonderful save by Heurelio Gomes.
Bendtner’s injury caused a general lull in the team as Eduardo scampered around on the bench preparing to get ready and the midfield players struggled to manage essentially playing with ten men. After a dominant opening period by Arsenal the away side began to get into the game and Robbie Keane had their best (and only real) chance of the half snatched away by an outstanding sliding tackle by Alex Song.
Surprisingly, just as we started to look a bit flat and out of ideas we scored. Bacary Sagna’s quick thinking from a throw-in saw him play a one-two with Eduardo and the Frenchman’s low cross was stabbed home by a desperate van Persie. I say desperate in a good way because the effort the Dutchman put in to reach that ball was something to behold and it allowed him to score the type of goal that great poachers regularly do.
If the Arsenal supporters went mental at the Pig ‘n’ Whistle in Brisbane when van Persie found the back of the net, they become utterly delirious when we scored again just 11 seconds after the restart. Van Persie nicked the ball off Wilson Palacios from the kick-off, fed his mate Fabregas and the captain did the rest, skipping round two challenges before nutmegging King and firing a perfect shot past Gomes in the Tottenham goal.
I have to admit to being exceptionally confused when the replay screen of van Persie’s goal was removed to reveal the ball flying into the opposite corner. But replays have since shown it to be a truly great goal scored at a ball-crushing time for Spurs and the celebrations of the skipper showed just how much he enjoyed it. To say that we enjoyed it in the pub would be understatement of the century and I still haven’t got around to rinsing out the many pints of beer that spilled on my shirt as the Arsenal boys and I jumped around like idiots.
From 0-0 and flagging we were 2-0 up at the break and cruising. And while we may have been in the same position at half-time last weekend at Upton Park, there was no way Spurs were going to recover from the body blow they’d just taken.
The second half was something of a blur if I’m being completely honest – not because I was drunk but because I was too busy singing songs and telling anyone who wanted to hear how much I love this team – but by and large we dominated. Abou Diaby had a powerful shot blocked off the line, Eduardo missed two one-on-ones that he would usually score in his sleep, Fabregas and Diaby missed relatively easy headers. Meanwhile Almunia was called to make a save for the first time in the game at 2-0, doing what Vito Mannone could not do last week in parrying David Bentley’s free-kick away from goal and over the bar.
We scored a third when Sagna capitalised on the advantage provided to him after a foul on Eduardo to set up van Persie for his second. Both Gomes and King should have done better with the Frenchman’s cross but it should be noted that this was Sagna’s third assist in two games. While his mate on the other wing Gael Clichy might be struggling a bit with getting forward Sagna is having no such trouble.
So 3-0 it ended, an absolutely terrific result in the North London Derby and Tottenham have been well and truly put in their place. A great day for Gooners around the globe and in particular the lads that partied with me down at The Pig.
I touched on it earlier but the importance of our big players to step up and make contributions in big games cannot be underestimated. In Fabregas, van Persie and Arshavin we have three world-class players who have enough experience to know how to make the impact in games like this and all three did their job today. Van Persie’s overall contribution was immense, Fabregas provided a moment that few of us will forget while Arshavin, who I’ve noticed has received a little bit of criticism for his performance, was our main threat when the game was in the balance in the first half. While I stand by my statement that Bendtner was the best attacker on the pitch before he went off, Arshavin’s ability to run at defenders to create space and shoot is invaluable to the balance in our team.
While the aforementioned trio all had superb games my Man of the Match yesterday was William Gallas. He never gave Crouch an ounce of space, always challenging the giant striker in the air and worked brilliantly with Thomas Vermaelen to ensure the loose ball was always ours. Normally it is Vermaelen who provides the grit at the back but Gallas lead by example today and deserved to end up with a clean sheet. Superb, superb, superb.
Throughout the delirium and justified happiness of beating Tottenham 3-0 today I think the game serves as a superb reminder of the incredible part that chance plays in the game of football. Had the result of Bentley and Diamanti’s free-kicks been switched between this game and last weekend’s, it would have been interesting to see the final results of the two games. Indeed, had Mannone managed to parry Diamanti’s kick away in the same manner that Almunia did I would be fairly confident that we would beaten West Ham by the same scoreline that we beat Tottenham.
Last week we were criticised in the media for being complacent, switching off and looking lazy while this week we are a Premiership threat. But in reality there really wasn’t too much difference between the games, just that last week the referee made a poor decision and an inexperienced keeper was unable to make a routine save. It’s not a criticism of Mannone, just a reminder that football is often much simpler and less controllable than we make it out to be.
The ladder shows us in third spot but with Manchester United and Chelsea facing each other in a top-of-the-table clash next weekend something has got to give. A draw between the pair and a win by our boys against Wolves would see us still in third, but just a point behind United and three behind Chelsea with a game in hand. An excellent place to be, I’m sure you’d agree?
What’s more, with our game in hand not likely to be played for a while yet we should be able to maintain our underdog status for some time. I found it interesting that the media chose to talk more about Tottenham being found out rather than us being confirmed as title contenders but to be completely honest, the longer that sort of stuff goes on the happier I will be.
The one negative to come out of the game was of course the injury to Bendtner and it has been confirmed by the manager that he will be out for at least four weeks. A terrible blow to a player that is really starting to look the goods but fortunately for the team the ability to play any one of Eduardo, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Eboue, Carlos Vela or Tomas Rosicky in his place means we probably won’t miss the big Dane too much.
Anyway that’s it. Enjoy the week everyone and if you have any stories from the weekend celebrations be sure to post them on the blog. Up the ARSENAL!
PS. I put down $10 on Arsenal to win 4-1 on Saturday at a hefty $21. So, so close!
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