Yesterday, Arsenal came from behind to thump Tottenham Hotspur 5-2. History, it seems, repeats itself. At the heart of matters was the controversial figure of Emmanuel Adebayor, who scored a significant goal only to become the perpetrator of a violent and crude act that will grab the headlines. History, again, repeating.
Some say that Adebayor was a little unfortunate to be sent off, and that his fate (a sending off for a thigh-high lunge at Santi Cazorla) could have befallen any player on the field. That would be easier to believe if we hadn’t seen it all before. Adebayor’s previous conviction was, you’ll remember, whilst playing for Manchester City. On that occasion, a goal against his former club fuelled him with such a rush of adrenaline that he stamped on an Arsenal player’s face and celebrated distastefully in front of our fans. On that occasion, punishment was belated, requiring an FA disciplinary panel. Yesterday, retribution was swift and immediate. Howard Webb pulled out the red card, and the game was turned.
Spurs had started so well. They fielded an ambitious 4-4-2, and looked sturdy at the back, confident in possession, and threatening on the break. Their goal typified their direct style, borne of a lofted ball down the left that exposed our defence as horribly muddled. Per Mertesacker stepped up while the rest of the back four remained in position, Jermain Defoe raced in to the chasmic gap, and his shot was only palmed in to Adebayor’s path for the simplest of tap-ins.
It would be a slight untruth to say the game hinged entirely on Adebayor’s moment of madness. There was another incident, just a couple of minutes before, that was almost as significant. A lightening Tottenham break led by Gareth Bale ended with Aaron Lennon receiving the ball just inside our penalty area. He fizzed a shot across goal, and it escaped the far post by a matter of inches. Had that gone in, Arsenal would have been two down, and the whole shape of the game may have changed.
As it was, Lennon missed, and Adebayor followed up with an even greater aberration. Immediately, Arsenal came to life. Santi Cazorla suddenly found the space he’d hitherto lacked, and the game turned in our favour. We were helped, too, by Andre Villas Boas’ selection of the inexperienced Karl Naughton at left-back. He struggled against Theo Walcott all day long, and it was Theo’s perfectly clipped cross that found Per Mertesacker. The big German leapt and planted a beautiful header in to the far corner for his first Arsenal goal. It was a goal that had all the game-changing thump of Bacary Sagna’s in this fixture last season, and Per’s celebration showed just how much it meant to him.
Suddenly, Arsenal were flying. In the two minutes before half-time they all but put the game beyond Tottenham. First Lukas Podolski capped a hard-working display by squiring a deflected shot past the otherwise impressive Hugo Lloris, before Olivier Giroud put the icing on the cake. He was helped in no small part by Santi Cazorla, who in one dribble overcame both a foul and a tackle from one of his own team-mates to get to the byline and square for the Frenchman to fire home.
At this stage, the half-time whistle brought welcome relief for Tottenham. I turned to a friend and said that with our defence, I wouldn’t be confident until we got a fourth. Fortunately, soon after the restart I got my wish. The goal was possibly my favourite of the day, as it involved all four of our attackers. Olivier Giroud nodded a goal-kick to Theo Walcott, who in turn played in Lukas Podolski. The ruthlessly efficient German squared for Cazorla to slide home a well-deserved goal, and with that the game was pretty much done.
Spurs did put a few jitters up us when Gareth Bale fired home from the edge of the area with twenty minutes to go. I have to say, I don’t get many opportunities to watch the Welshman up close, but he’s clearly some player. Fortunately, he’s also far too good for Spurs, so I can’t imagine we’ll have to worry about him there for more than a season or too.
With only ten men, Tottenham weren’t ever able to put us under serious pressure. All that was left was for us to replicate last season’s scoreline, which we did in added time. Theo Walcott had been given a four minute cameo in the central role he craves, and he used the opportunity ably to grab a goal, sidefooting home after an impressive burst from substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It is genuinely frustrating to watch Walcott in such a rich vein of form, knowing all the time that we are creeping closer to his likely departure. At the moment, however, pragmatism dictates that we must continue to play him. He is simply too valuable to the team to relegate to the bench.
So there we have it: 5-2 again. Same result; different sensation. Because of the sending off, I feel like this game won’t have the same seismic impact on either of these teams’ seasons as the previous 5-2. Last time, Spurs’ collapse came from a greater position of dominance, and was more complete in its cataclysmic hilarity. This time, they have mitigating circumstances. They can blame Adebayor’s stupidity rather than their own inadequacy. I expect their wheels to wobble, rather than come off entirely.
For Arsenal, however, there are still plenty of positives. Arsenal’s front six were excellent. In midfield Arteta was solid, whilst Jack Wilshere had arguably his best game since returning from a seventeen month lay-off. Santi Cazorla recaptured his spectacular early-season form, admittedly helped by the holes in midfield left vacant by a fast-tiring Tottenham side.
I was particularly taken with the performances of our attacking trio. Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski could both feel justified in laying claim to a centre-forward role, but both put in real shifts on the flank and reaped the rewards with a goal apiece. Olivier Giroud’s adaptation continues apace – whilst he occasionally lacks pace, his aerial ability and movement generally make up for that. It was notable how many crosses Arsenal put in yesterday – as long as Giroud is in the side, we have a genuine plan B to our conventional ‘tippy-tappy’ style.
The truth is that the long term repercussions don’t really matter. In the immediate term, the here and now, we thumped Tottenham 5-2. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it? Just, you could say, like last time. Let’s make this an annual thing. Enjoy your Sunday.