Arsenal’s rollercoaster season hit another trough on Wednesday after a pulsating 3–3 draw against their archrival Tottenham Hotspur in the North London derby at White Hart Lane.
The Gunners squandered a two-goal lead and with five games left to play in the Premier League season find themselves in third place (on goal differential) after Chelsea downed Birmingham at Stamford Bridge 3–1. Both Arsenal and Chelsea are six points back of leaders Manchester United.
Still, Wenger was full of praise for his squad and feels the title race is not over.
“Completely open,” said Wenger about the title race on www.arsenal.com. “It’s open and it is down to us to keep our faith and keep battling.
“We are remarkably consistent because it was a difficult game tonight; with an average performance, we would not have come away with a point.”
Squandering their chances is perhaps the tale of Arsenal’s season and this draw with Spurs is a microcosm of the Gunners’ year.
Arsenal has always been capable of playing the most exquisite brand of football in the Premier League. Under Wenger’s guidance, Arsenal began the match with Spurs on fire, perhaps boosted by United’s slip-up on Tuesday in Newcastle.
In the fifth minute, Cesc Fabregas fed a nicely weighted pass to speedy winger Theo Walcott who raced in on Spurs keeper Gomes and slotted it home confidently.
While an early goal was just what the Gunners needed, Spurs didn’t wait long to respond. Dutchman Rafael Van der Vaart fired a blast past young Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny just two minutes later.
The blistering pace of the match continued and five minutes later, Abou Diaby found Samir Nasri with a routine pass. Spurs gave the Gunner too much room at the top of the 18-yard box and Nasri was able to line up a blast that seemed to fool Gomes as it went through Michael Dawson’s legs.
This goal represented what Arsenal has done on several occasions this season—respond to adversity. It is not for nothing that Arsenal has been in second place for most of the Premier League season.
A defensive error by former Gunner William Gallas allowed Walcott to chip a cross to Robin Van Persie who headed toward goal. Gomes made a flying save but Van Persie fired the rebound home for a 3–1 Arsenal lead.
Just before halftime, big Tom Huddlestone came up with one of his trademark long-range strikes. Szczesny was helpless on the blast as the ball ripped its way through Van der Vaart’s legs and in. Arsenal had failed to adequately clear off a corner kick and, as it has been all season long, their mistakes get punished.
One of the most exciting halves of football ended with Arsenal up 3–2.
Spurs began the second half in earnest and Arsenal picked up a couple of yellow cards for bad fouls. Wenger claimed his team “dropped physically in the second half” after the wild finish against Liverpool last Sunday.
Aaron Lennon, who had come on for Gareth Bale at the half, raced into the box and got hauled down by Szczesny who missed the ball. A penalty was rightly awarded which Van der Vaart dispatched easily.
The Gunners made a double substitution in the 82nd minute, bringing on Nicklas Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin for Nasri and Walcott respectively.
But Gomes stopped everything else the Gunners could throw at him, showing that the sometimes-shaky goalie seems to step up his game when Arsenal could have used a break.
At the start of last weekend, Arsenal trailed United by seven points with a game in hand. With a victory over Liverpool, the Gunners could’ve stepped up the pressure on United, but were unable to put forth a convincing display and deserved no better than a draw.
Pay no attention to the incredible finish in which two penalty kick goals were scored after the seventh minute of extra time; it should not take away from Arsenal not delivering the goods when they most needed to.
While Manchester United can unofficially be crowned Premier League champions, Arsenal can still battle on for pride. They should feel that second place ought to be theirs.
Some of it can be salvaged with a victory over Manchester United at the Emirates on May 1.