Arsenal’s Amazing Comeback Dashes Tottenham’s Title Hopes

February 26, 2012 Updated: February 29, 2012
Arsenal's Robin van Persie is closed down by Tottenham's Kyle Walker in a memorable North London derby on Sunday. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Arsenal's Robin van Persie is closed down by Tottenham's Kyle Walker in a memorable North London derby on Sunday. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Arsenal came back from two goals down to thrash Tottenham Hotspur 5–2 in an epic North London derby at the Emirates on Sunday. The defeat effectively ends Spurs’ title hopes, leaving them 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester City with only 12 games left to play.

“Today we gave a performance that on the spirit side, the technical side, the drive of the whole team, on the style of the game we want to play, everything was perfect despite a very bad start,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Arsenal.com

Theo Walcott bounced back to form with a pair of second half goals that took everyone by surprise. Many in the crowd were calling for the England winger to be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the second half after a mediocre display during the first period. The switch did eventually occur, but by then, Walcott was the hero of the afternoon having put the game beyond Tottenham’s reach.

In fact, Walcott has been so out of sorts lately, it was something of a surprise to see Wenger include his name in the starting XI. With Yossi Benayoun also given the nod, there was no place for Oxlade-Chamberlain, much to the consternation of the Arsenal faithful. Laurent Koscielny passed a fitness test and was able to take his place alongside Thomas Vermaelen at the heart of the Gunners’ defense.

Ledley King’s invaluable experience ensured his selection for Spurs, notwithstanding those rickety knees. Emmanuel Adebayor returned to his old stomping ground and was partnered up front by new signing Louis Saha, consigning Rafael Van der Vaart to the bench.

Spurs sat comfortably in third place, being 10 points ahead of their North London rivals at the start of play. Arsenal entered the match having lost their last two matches against AC Milan and Sunderland, and a third defeat would have been devastating for the club, especially at the hands of their archrivals.

Tottenham Forge Ahead

The visitors certainly had the best of the early exchanges and were a goal to the good after only four minutes. Adebayor picked up the ball just inside the Arsenal half and played a simple through pass for his strike partner Saha, who opened Tottenham’s account with the help of a significant deflection.

Arsenal attempted to come back but couldn’t manage more than a corner and had a couple of very optimistic penalty appeals rightly turned down by referee Mike Dean. Their first real chance came on 15 minutes when Robin van Persie uncharacteristically skewed his shot wide of the post.

Then on 32 minutes, speedster Gareth Bale was in on the Arsenal goal only to be brought down by keeper Wojciech Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper escaped without a card being shown, but was well beaten by the subsequent spot kick, calmly dispatched by Adebayor as a chorus of boos and jeers echoed around the Emirates.

Cue the Comeback

The way Spurs have been playing in recent weeks they probably thought the three points were already in the bag, but they should have known better. This fixture has a history of dramatic turnarounds and Tottenham themselves came back from two down to win only last year.

When van Persie hit the post at the 40 minute mark it looked like it just might not be Arsenal’s day, but they re-gained possession from the rebound and kept the attack alive.

Mikel Arteta delivered a good cross, which found Bacary Sagna near the penalty spot. Being that far out, the header needed to have power and accuracy and the right full back duly obliged, pulling one back for the hosts.

Only three minutes more had passed when van Persie pounced on a weak clearance, changed direction to bring the ball onto his favored left foot and curled a cracker past Brad Friedel from the edge of the box. The 60,000 plus crowd had hitherto been fairly quiet, but this strike from their main man brought them well and truly to life.

The Job Completed

Harry Redknapp decided to bring on Van der Vaart for Saha at the start of the second half. This seemed a strange decision because whenever the French international had the ball at his feet in the first half, the Arsenal back line looked vulnerable in the extreme.

The Gunners started the second half as they had finished the first and Benayoun soon had Friedel scrambling the ball around the post with his fingertips. Just six minutes in, some vintage inter-play involving van Persie, Walcott, and Tomas Rosicky concluded with the Czech international in the six-yard box at the end of the move putting Arsenal ahead with a deft left-foot finish.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott scored two goals to put the game out of Tottenham's reach. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Arsenal's Theo Walcott scored two goals to put the game out of Tottenham's reach. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The game was made safe at the 65-minute mark when van Persie played a perfect pass into the path of Walcott who crisply slotted the ball home with a confidence that nobody who had witnessed his inept first half performance could possibly have expected.

“At 2–0 I didn’t feel comfortable and at 2–2 I felt even less comfortable and the momentum was with them at half time,” said Redknapp. “They came off to a standing ovation and you knew it was going to be a very tough second half.”

A mere three minutes later, a fine long ball from deep by Alex Song
released Walcott again, and suddenly the winger who had two to his name.

“The crowd was starting to get on his [Walcott’s] back and you wonder if [it won’t] do him a favor by leaving him on. But I felt that he has the qualities that, considering the rest of the team, are highly needed,” said Wenger.

Spurs were thoroughly demoralized and never really looked like staging a comeback of their own. The final straw came when Scott Parker was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence two minutes from time.

The defeat all but ends the Cockerels’ title aspirations while Arsenal’s win takes them above Chelsea into that coveted fourth place on the table, based on having scored more goals.

Last Gasp Winner Keeps United on City’s Tail

An injury time winner from Ryan Giggs, playing in a Manchester United shirt for the 900th time, secured a hard fought 2–1 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road.

The victory keeps United hot on the heels of their wealthy neighbors, with City’s lead at the top of the ladder cut back again to two points.