Match Of The (Mid)Week: Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur
What a difference a week makes. This time last week, Tottenham Hotspur looked down and out in the Premier League – slipping adrift at the foot of the Premier League and players so bereft of confidence that they seemed more likely to come out onto the pitch and attach a line of nooses to one of the crossbars than anything else. After five days in charge, however, Harry Redknapp seems, on this current limited evidence, to be working some sort of alchemy with a collection of players that seem to be gelling with such haste that some people are suggesting that witchcraft may be involved.
Off the pitch, Spurs chose yesterday to announce plans to build a brand new 60,000 capacity stadium. The inner pessimist of the average Spurs supporter may lead them to suspect that, just they signed Sergei Rebrov at the same time that Arsenal signed Thierry Henry, it wouldn’t be beyond Spurs to build a Stadio Delle Alpi rather than an Emirates Stadium, and the Premier League would lose, in White Hart Lane, one of its most atmospheric stadia, but recent financial results (which showed a net debt of just £14m) would seem to indicate that the club is in a far better financial state to be able to cope with the construction of a new stadium than, say, the debt-laden Liverpool. It is likely that, with an enormous waiting list for season tickets, the interest would be there to sustain such a project, and it could be argued that, with the current financial slump having had a serious effect on the construction industry, now could be a good time to get a price for such a huge project.
Whilst it is probably already too late for Spurs to challenge, as they might have expected to in August, for a place in Europe this season, Arsenal remain in third place in the Premier League, a position that they now seem likely to make theirs in perpetuity. They have looked comfortable in the dull-as-ditchwater early stages of the Champions League, but their Premier League form so far has been patchy, and has included defeats against Hull City and Fulham, which are not, in the current Premier League environment, the sort of results that anyone can afford if they wish to challenge for the title. It took just thirteen minutes for them to fall a goal behind, though when it came, it was to a goal of rare impudence and quality. David Bentley has been one of Spurs’ most underwhelming performers this season so far, but he made up for this with a stunning volley from forty-five yards out that dipped over Manuel Almunia and in to give the visitors the lead. As a symbol of the sudden resurgence in confidence of Tottenham’s players, it was pretty potent.
At the other end of the pitch, however, they have to cope with having Heurelho Gomes in goal. Harry Redknapp, having had to put up with the occasional dalliances of David James over the last couple of years or so, may have a high tolerance threshold towards unpredictable goalkeepers, but Gomez continues to look like a complete and utter liability. One of his more bizarre character traits the apparent desire to claim every single cross that comes into his penalty area, regardless of whether there is any chance whatsoever of him getting to the ball or not. Eight minutes from half-time he came for a corner, leaving the goal completely exposed for Silvestre, not unexpectedly, to get to the ball before him and head into an empty goal to level things up. The obvious question to ask is how long Redknapp can put up with such goalkeeping, but the only answer that can be given to this is that, well, he’ll probably have to until the transfer window opens in January at least.
The parity between the two team at half-time lasted less than a minute at the start of the second half. Robin Van Persie swung a free kick over from the right, and William Gallas headed powerfully into the corner of the net. Arsenal, by this point, were completely dominant, and Denilson and Adebayor both had chances to extend the home side’s lead before the third goal finally came. Van Persie’s outstanding pass from inside his own half released Nasri, whose lob was poked in from a couple of yards out by Emmanual Adebayor. Another goalkeeping mistake then allowed Spurs back into the game. Darren Bent had only been on the pitch a couple of minutes, but he profited when Tom Huddlestone’s shot was spilt into his path by Almunia, allowing him to roll the ball into an empty goal. They were back in it for just a minute. A careless pass from Alan Hutton allowed Adebayor away on the left hand side, and his pass found Robin Van Persie, who scored the goal that his performance deserved from ten yards.
With their two goal lead restored and three-quarters of the match played, one may have expected that the points were now guaranteed for Arsenal, but this match had a sting in its tail which proved that Tottenham’s sudden leap in form may prove to be as alarming as their initial slump had been in the first place. There was a minute left to play of the original ninety when Jermaine Jenas curled the ball into the top corner from twenty yards. The empty seats behind the goal seemed to indicate that the resurgence of confidence that seems to have affected their players so much hadn’t, by this time, spread to their supporters, but those that had decided to stick things out to the bitter end were rewarded four minutes into stoppage time, when Luka Modric’s deflected shot thumped off the post and, with the Arsenal defence momentarily flat-footed, Aaron Lennon prodded the ball into the empty goal. In the ensuing melee, a Spurs supporter that had got onto the pitch found himself involved in a delirious celebration with the players, before being similarly swamped by orange-clad stewards.
An enthralling match, then, and a point that Tottenham’s tenacity deserved. For Arsenal, this was another two points dropped and, with Chelsea and Liverpool both winning again, it looks like this is going to be a third consecutive transitional season for Arsene Wenger. How much longer will the directors of the club stand for this? With Aston Villa breathing down their necks, they can’t afford too many more performances like the last five minutes of last night’s match. This week may have had a “Brave New World” feel to it for Spurs, but there are still problems that Harry Redknapp needs to deal with. Alan Hutton looked ponderous at left back, and Heurelho Gomez remains a liability in goal. Whether he will try to coach these issues out of them or seek to replace them in the January tranfer window is a question for the future. For now, though, with four points from their last two matches meaning that they have trebled their points tally for the season in the space of four days, the future looks somewhat brighter than it had done for many months for the white and blue half of North London.