By Shane Thomas
ARSENAL 2 - 3 TOTTENHAM
Tottenham took advantage of a moment of madness from Cesc Fabregas to end their 17 year away hoodoo against rivals Arsenal. Spurs came from 2-0 down at half-time to stage a memorable comeback to leave the majority of the crowd at The Emirates stadium in a state of horror and shock.
But while Tottenham deserve plenty of credit, Arsenal will be kicking themselves for losing a match that they held in the palm of their hands in the first-half. Indeed it was the use of a hand that was the turning point in the game.
In the first-half Arsenal took advantage of a selection misstep from Spurs boss Harry Redknapp. While they lined up in the 4-5-1 formation that has been their modus operandi in recent weeks, Redknapp made the surprising decision to leave Peter Crouch on the bench and start Roman Pavlyuchenko as the lone striker. While the Russian has devil in the penalty box, he is not one to hold the ball up & bring his teammates into the game. This meant that Arsenal were able to play from the back under little pressure. This led to a domino effect where Arsenal's midfield were given the freedom of the pitch and carved Tottenham open to score twice.
It was delightful ball from Fabregas that freed Samir Nasri after 8 minutes. Hereulho Gomes should have claimed the ball but the Frenchman deserves credit breaking free to finish into the empty net from the acutest of angles. Their second goal was straight out of the playbook from the Arsenal 'Invincibles' team of 2004. After defending a set-piece, Arsenal went from their own penalty area to Tottenham's in 12 seconds with the move of the match. The incisive counter was converted by Marouane Chamakh after an excellent low cross from Andrey Arshavin.
Arsenal progressed serenely to half-time with their two goal lead. Redknapp - whose hand was now forced - summoned Jermain Defoe from the bench to replace an ineffectual Aaron Lennon. Many newspapers will have you believe that Arry's switch to 4-4-2 turned the game. Don't believe it for a second. While having two forwards on the pitch meant Arsenal no longer had the time to pass out from defence, it was moving Rafa Van Der Vaart into an inside-right position that helped close the space that the Gunners had previously been allowed. All of a sudden Spurs went 3 vs 3 in midfield, and it left Gareth Bale in a pocket of space that precipitated the comeback.
Four minutes into the second-half, Defoe flicked on a long ball, Van Der Vaart drifted in from the right to play Bale clear after the Welshman drifted infield from his left-wing position. He stil had work to do but his first touch sent him away from Bacary Sagna & the finish was hit with the outside of his left foot with aplomb.
While the contest was alive again, Arsenal managed to keep the Lilywhites at arm's length. Tottenham were condensing the pitch but Arsenal still had the bulk of possession. A combination of resolute defending from William Gallas & Younes Kaboul, as well as profligate passing (particularly from Chamakh minutes before the equaliser) meant that they were unable to rebuild their two goal cushion.
And then insanity descended onto the pitch. After Tottenham had a free-kick within shooting range, Van Der Vaart struck it into the wall. It was a tame effort but Fabregas inexplicably raised his arm to block the shot - inside the penalty box. It was in full view of the referee Phil Dowd, and he had no option but to award a penalty. Van Der Vaart made no mistake from the spot and Tottenham were now level.
I've said on here before how much Arsenal have come to rely on Fabregas. And his stupidity spread to the entire side. Arsenal were like a boxer that had been hit with a vicious body punch, unable to get their breath back. Arsenal's inability to hold on from here was a mental failing rather than a technical one. Laurent Koscielny missed a free header from yards out, and while they worked themselves into many promising positions, the decision making and ruthlessness that had been so discernible in the first-half completely deserted them.
Spurs were more than happy to take advantage. Arsenal were now giving the ball away on a consistent basis, which led to numerous Tottenham counter-attacks. Arsenal were having to concede free-kicks to stop these breaks developing into clear chances. It was a house of cards effect that left the momentum of the game swinging towards the away side. And with four minutes to go the house of cards fell in.
A free-kick from Van Der Vaart was swung into the box. It was an excellent delivery and Kaboul, who had a marvellous match, outmuscled both Fabregas & Robin Van Persie to flick the ball past Lukas Fabianski to send the travelling Spurs support into delirium.
Arsenal's spirit was broken. Tottenham saw out the remaining minutes comfortably and left Arsene Wenger throwing a water bottle to the ground in apoplectic frustration.
This result won't end Arsenal's title challenge (or rekindle Tottenham's for that matter). But this is Arsenal's third defeat at home this season. If they have designs on winning any trophy beyond the two domestic cups, then they have to rid themselves of their dependency on Fabregas. While he won't do something as reckless as he did today, he can't be expected to carry the side on his own. Too many of the Arsenal players have a Cesc Fabregas dependency, and given that they'll probably have to go cold turkey next season, it's about time they weaned themselves off it.
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