If Carlsberg did football, it’d be like this one
In a match so eerily similar to the same fixture last year, there was one main difference – the result. And that shows exactly how much we’ve progressed since then.
My day began with the usual nerves ahead of going to see an Arsenal game, never mind that it was at the home of our arch-rivals. Having met my mate DJ and his lady friend Minnie at Preston Road, we went on to Liverpool Street station to meet the final member of our motley crew: the notorious Dschin.
We were all plain-clothed of course; few right-minded Gooners would venture into enemy territory wearing the colours unless they were stirring for a fight. I’d heard plenty of stuff on forums outlining Spurs fans’ methods of smoking us out, the one that stuck in my mind was them randomly shouting out "Oi Gooner!" and seeing who turns around to acknowledge this, so I firmly stuck my earphones into my ears as we got out of White Hart Lane station and walked to the shithole. On the way we stopped to get something to eat (outside the Spurs Shop…megastore my arse!). As DJ whipped out his wallet to get his money, much to his horror staring back at him was his shiny red Arsenal credit card. Thankfully no-one else in the queue spotted this, so our cover wasn’t blown. Until we a bumped into a Spurs supporting mate of ours about 2 minutes later, who proceeded to say things like "Oh so you’re sitting in the away end?" and "Bad luck today, I hope we beat you" in a not-so quiet voice! Thankfully we weren’t far from the south side of the stadium where the away fans sit, so we were soon in Gooner territory. Funnily enough as we were queuing up to get into the Lane, a Spud walked past us and ‘politely’ enquired where our colours where. Ironic how he wasn’t wearing any colours himself, an irony which seemed to be lost on him as he dragged his knuckles on the floor.
Having safely negotiated our way into the stadium with 20 minutes ‘til kick-off, we got news of the lineup. As expected, Almunia started in goal with Jens out "injured". Gilberto rose above his jet-lag to fill in at centre-half, while Flamini partnered Cesc in the middle. Diaby took his place on the left-side of midfield which came as no surprise to me, in a game like this I doubt Le Boss would field both Alex Hleb and Tommy Rosicky from the start, choosing only one of those two and having a strong, more defensive-minded player down the other side (usually Eboue). Up-front it was Robin and Ade, the man who had taken over Robert Pires mantle as ‘The Bane of Tottenham’. The only surprise in my eyes was no Eduardo on the bench, which I assumed was because of fatigue from the internationals.
Just before kick-off when the players encourage each other, I had a bit of an epiphany. While it is evident that the boys have team-spirit, could they turn it into a winning mentality? In a way this game was an acid test, I thought to myself that if this team is truly special then it’d have to come away with three points. Last season we failed tests like these. We showed plenty of character in this fixture last year, but it was at the back-end of the season by which time we were in the comfort-zone of 4th place. When a big match like this comes along so early in the season, you know that its result will have some bearing on how the season will turn out.
Before the game me and DJ had been predicting, he felt were gonna lose, whilst I was certain that we’d concede first. Not even 30 seconds had passed and we’d already given away a corner, and the very last thing we needed was Spurs to grab the momentum with a goal so early. The corner came to nothing and our fears were allayed. Soon after Gael made another trademark dribble down the left as he cut inside and got to the byline. He delayed his pass though and the move petered out. A minute later we could’ve taken the lead ourselves as Ade hit a dipping half-volley that England’s number 1 tipped over the bar. Both teams had begun brightly in the North London sunshine.
Not much happened until their goal which came on the quarter-hour. The travelling faithful had been in full voice, blazing out all the old favourites (most of which contain a reference to Martin Jol’s mother), until Gareth Bale made hay from a free-kick and deflated us. It was from a silly foul by Gilberto on Berbatov who had been going sideways. The angle seemed to favour a right-footer, but Bale stepped up to send the ball over the wall and sneaking in at Manuel’s near post. Two things: a keeper should never concede at his near post, and the wall should’ve jumped.
Immediately after we restarted the game we went down the other end, Robin’s long-throw finding Adebayor who had drifted in behind the Spurs defence. He drove his volley with plenty of power but it was too straight as Paul Robinson beat it away for a corner. We didn’t really create much for the next 10 minutes with passes going astray and tackles being lost. Diaby in particular was guilty of wastefulness in possession, and he felt the wrath of Dschin’s tongue. Our biggest threat in the first-half had come via the ball being slid in between defenders for Ade to run on to. Cesc found Ade like this and the Togo man played a reverse pass for Hleb, who for once had the temerity to shoot first time. His left-footed effort was parried away by Robinson to van Persie who flashed the ball across the six-yard box but unfortunately there was no fox to convert it. The same combo nearly worked again a few minutes later as Cesc fed Ade, but the strikers touch was too heavy and the even heavier Paul Robinson came out to claim the ball.
Then came the mandatory hitting of woodwork at the Lane. We did it about 3 times last year and kept up the tradition this time, Abou Diaby obliging to strike the crossbar after good work from Alex Hleb found him unmarked at the back-post. The rest of the half passed with little incident of note, apart from Bac Sagna getting skinned by Berbatov but having enough in his tank to get back at the Bulgarian and execute an inch-perfect tackle. People looked on in bewilderment over the summer when we signed yet another right-back, but as always ‘Arsene knows’.
The break was spent gloomily contemplating defeat and bemoaning the fact that we’d now conceded the first goal in each of our last five visits here. However we were cheered up by the Spurs PA and big screen which announced details of their ‘big European night’ at the Lane versus Anorthosis Famagusta, haha. Arsenal fans broke into chants of "Channel Five, Thursday nights", "Champions League, you’re having a laugh!" and a rendition of "We’re on our way to Moscow". Remembering how inferior our opponents were gave us a lift.
We started the second period with more urgency, as evidenced by the higher line our defence took, thus allowing us to play more in the Tottenham half. This backfired as a ball over the top left Berbatov in acres of space. Almunia dvanced but the Bulgarian took the ball past him and was poised to put the game to bed, yet Captain Kolo somehow saved the day with a match-saving tackle on his arse. A potential turning point in the game? Only time would tell.
3 minutes after that the overlapping Sagna did well to keep the ball in play twice before getting to the byline and cutting it back to Ade, who blazed over the bar in a very Heskey-esque manner. Then another scare in our defence as Huddlestone skewed a left-footed volley wide from no more than 12 yards out.
Our equaliser came when Tommy Rosicky (I think) – on for the out-of-position and out-of-sorts Diaby – was fouled 30 yards out to the left of the box. We took it quickly (as usual) and the ball was blocked. But we were in for a reprieve. Why? Because some idiot Spud had decided to try and invade the pitch, causing stewards to escort him out and referee Mark Clattenburg to order us to retake the free-kick. Before it was retaken I said to Dschin how we’d score as it was in exactly the same position as Toure’s goal here last season, and lo and behold we did. Cesc flighted it in and Ade got in front of his marker and the keeper to nod home. Joy abound in the away end, and the ironic thing was we wouldn’t have scored had that twat ‘fan’ not tried to get onto the pitch. SO IF YOU’RE READING THIS YOU IDIOT, CHEERS FOR BEING SUCH A PRAT!
With our tails up and smelling blood Spurs had to do something to change the flow of the game, bringing on Aaron Lennon down their left. Five minutes later the below par van Persie got in his first shot of the game, allowing the ball to run across him before firing low and hard towards Robinson’s near post, forcing the keeper into a good stop as the ball bounced just in front of him. The game was end-to-end as both teams looked for the elusive winner. Just over 10 minutes remained and Spurs had a corner, Berbatov was left unmarked (defending from set-pieces was again a worry) and he volleyed towards goal from point-blank range. It seemed destined to go in, but Clichy got his body in the way and cleared it off the line. The danger had not subsided yet though as the rebound looped up only for Berbatov to head over the bar when it seemed easier to score. For years Cashley Hole had saved us umpteen times with clearances off the line, and now Gael is doing the same, good stuff.
We didn’t allow the pressure to continue though as we went straight down the other and grabbed our second. Robin knocked the ball out wide to Rosicky who squared it infield to the advancing Fabregas. All he needed was one touch to control before he rocketed a Scholes/Bobby Charlton piledriver beyond the reach of Robinson. The keeper may have got a hand to it but it wasn’t enough as the ball rippled the back of the net, to the delight of us and the despair of the Spuds, who had seen their beloved heroes (and I use the term loosely) once again go from being one-nil up to 2-1 down. This prompted the now legendary "One-nil and you f*cked it up!" chant from Gooners, and "You’re getting sacked in the morning!" directed towards Jol.
I wasn’t getting ahead of myself though as last season’s result was still fresh in my memory. The scenario was exactly the same: Spurs go in one-up at the break, Arsenal come out all guns blazing and grab two before having to hang in the last 10 minutes. I said to Dschin that we’d have to get a third goal before Spurs got a second, and to my horror the latter nearly happened with five minutes left on the clock. Once again a ball over the top caught our defence on the hop, this time it was Gilberto who seemed to be struggling with fatigue. Bent was through for his golden moment, one to seal him in the hearts of Tottenham fans. We were sitting right behind it at the opposite end and before he pulled the trigger time stood still. Were we gonna suffer the same fate as last season? Were we f*ck! Bent scuffed the shot with his left peg and it dribbled far wide of Manuel’s left post.
I was still apprehensive though, especially when it was announced that there would be 4 minutes of injury time, the same amount as last season. There were a few scares in and around our area but it seemed that we were winning the 50:50 balls. Special mention here must go to Rosicky in particular, who not only looked a bright spark going forward but also showed the desire and commitment to win interceptions late on. It was after he won the ball on the edge of our box that he drove forward and played it up to Ade who layed it back to the Little Mozart, who in turn released substitute Denilson on the right-wing in loadsa space. His Brazilian compatriot Julio Baptista had a gilt-edged opportunity last season to seal the victory, and like his beastly buddy Denilson didn’t take this one either as his sidefooted finish struck the legs of Robinson. "Bollocks" I thought. But this team keeps on going, and the ball rebounded to Cesc who looked forward to Ade on the edge of the box. The big man took a touch which sent the ball up in the air and then unleashed an unstoppable volley over Robinson and into the top corner. Cue wild celebrations in the away section. Initial comparisons were made with Henry’s memorable goal against Man Utd at Highbury in 2000, but having seen the highlights it was more like Drogba versus Liverpool from last season. Either way, that goal settled it beyond doubt and the ref blew the final whistle seconds later. "It’s so quiet at the Lane" had been replaced with "It’s so easy at the Lane" and as news filtered through that Liverpool could only manage a draw at Pompey, it dawned us that the victory had taken up to the top of the league and the token "We are top of the league" broke out. If I’m correct it’s the first time we’ve been top since the Invincibles (and Jose Reyes) were left bloodied and battered by Man Utd in the pizza buffet game. I’m sure there’s some hidden meaning behind that fact, anyone care to explain it?
My day didn’t end there though, as we still had to turn those smiles into frowns after the game as we travelled home amongst the dejected Spuds. The undoubted best moment of the journey home came on the train from White Hart Lane to Liverpool Street. Here’s a collection of some of the quotes I had the fortune to hear:
"I hate seeing that lot in the corner jumping up and down in celebration everytime they come to our place" – frustrated Spurs fan #1 in reference to his Gooner counterparts.
"I mean last year we couldn’t even beat their reserves, never mind their first team" – disconsolate Spurs fan #2.
"These days they don’t even see us as the big London derby anymore, they’re more focused on Chelsea, we’re just an afterthought now" – Spurs fan #1 again.
And this gem of a conversation between a young son, his dad, and disgruntled Spuds listening on:
Son – "Dad, who’s bottom of the league?"
Disgruntled Spud – "Tottenham."
Dad – "No son don’t worry it’s not Tottenham."
Disgruntled Spud – "No, but we will be soon."
Spurs fan #1 – "So much for being in the top four…"
Spurs fan #2 – "More like bottom four."
Son (having taken in everything he’s heard) – "So are we bottom of the league?"
I barely managed to stifle my laughter upon hearing that. Classic stuff.
As a celebration of a glorious day, me and Dschin decided to head off to the Emirates to purchase the new 3rd shirt. Call it spontaneous or stupid, it was worth spending an extra £40 buying a EUROPEAN shirt to commemorate the beating of Tottenham. And to top it all off, on the train home from Kings Cross I bumped into an old friend of mine – he of Scouse persuasion, the team who we’d just usurped to go top of the table.
If Carlsberg did days in football, I imagine it’d be very much like this one. Away to our bitterest of rivals (off the pitch, not on it), having to negotiate all the bile and vitriol that comes with being in enemy territory, going a goal down, then playing them off the park to possibly cost their manager his job, and in the process going top of the pops with a game in hand. This one was down to spirit, especially through the spine of the team: Kolo, Cesc and Ade. I can’t separate the three of them for Top Gun of the day. Before I forget I must mention how this result could be the making of a great team: it is on days like these where a team forges its character. I remember in the Unbeaten season when we were down by a goal away to Man City in the third or fourth game of the season. Apparently Arsene said to the boys at half time that the season started there and then, that if they harboured any hopes of greatness they’d have to turn the game around, not so much for the points but for the belief that it would instil. They did it, and so did the boys yesterday. Yesterday’s was an even harder turnaround to achieve as it was against Tottenham but they did it comfortably in the end. I must also mention how much it meant to the players, as illustrated by their celebrations at the final whistle. It wasn’t just the now routine huddle, there was also a jig within the huddle, such was the joy at the result and the manner in which it had been achieved. They then came over to us and chucked their shirts into the crowd, I think Chelsea did the same away to Blackburn when they were on their way to the first title under Mourinho in 04/05. Maybe that is a pointer to the direction this team is gonna take? The fans always have belief. The manger has always believed. Now I think the players finally, truly believe.
Up next, Anorthosis Famagusta. Not for us though, we’ve got Sevilla in Europe’s premier competition. Still, you’ll be there next year, won’t you Spurs? ;-)