The North London Derby is always a nervous night and in a “must win” situation going one down after five minutes was not the perfect start. It took a fantastic effort from Rafael Van Der Vaart to draw us level a couple of minutes later only for us to throw it away again and go 2-1 behind after 10 minutes.
When, after a concerted period of Spurs pressure, we gave up a third before half time it looked like without major reshuffling at half time Arsenal could have gone on to record a similar away win to Norwich at Portman Road last evening. But it wasn’t to be, Tom Huddlestone scored an absolute cracker just before half time to provide a lifeline and in the second half we put on a fantastic performance that saw us draw level and close to nicking the win.
At full time the draw was a fair result and those of us present had seen a fantastic match in which both sides went for the jugular in an effort to secure the three points. Typical Tottenham? Certainly, but fabulous performances from Rafa, Benny and Luka with everybody else contributing; so how did it nearly go so wrong?
We weren’t helped by Arsenal starting with more urgency than ourselves. In the last couple of home NLD’s they have tried to pass themselves to death but last night they were more direct. Benny, in his only lapse, played Walcott onside and once the through ball had beaten Gallas he was in to score.
We also saw everyone in our midfield wishing to contribute up front and in the first 45 no one was keen to get a foot in. Twelve months ago we saw a fiercely competitive Huddlestone and Modric muscle out Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of a few days; last night Tommy was pretty weak throughout in the challenge and I felt too far up the pitch on a number of occasions leaving us vulnerable. His distribution was also a little a bit wayward at times but we have to bear in mind he has been out injured for a long period and the frenetic pace that this match opened at might have taken him by surprise.
Whatever the reason his goal was an absolute peach, perfectly hit and a reminder that he should be able to secure more than 10 goals a season but Tom you can’t be beaten by Jack Wilshere in a header mate.
If the first goal was sloppy the second was a shocker with Arsenal allowed plenty of space and no one making any attempt to track Nasri who eventually obliged in striking a shot through the crowd of players which Gomes saw late and couldn’t keep out. Keeper error? Not really it was a far better attempt than the Van Persie effort that was ruled out in the second half. If he knew it was offside he must be clairvoyant and I considered him lucky to escape.
The third goal was also poor. Billy Gallas made a mess of a throw in which seemed to bounce of his chest further than he anticipated allowing Walcott to chip exquisitely for Van Persie to score. Gomes saved the first well but couldn’t get close to the next shot.
But it wasn’t all bad. A better opening goal would be hard to find as Rafa hit a perfect shot to beat the keeper following a great ball from Charlie. At 2-1 we had a really decent period of play where we got well on top with Luka and Rafa orchestrating things but it might well have been Bale’s withdrawal through injury that helped change our fortunes.
Quite why he was left on until half time was a strange one as he couldn’t run at all. It was a disappointing end to his night and followed a second collision with the Arsenal keeper. Frankly it looked like he went for the collision on both occasions but he landed heavily the second time. Penalties? No I didn’t think so and unfortunately they may make referees less likely to give us decisions when Gareth is involved.
His replacement Aaron Lennon started on the left and finished on the right and put in his usual good shift which included winning the equalising penalty when he forced the keeper to bring him down. It is fantastic that Gareth Bale won the PFA award but to me he currently isn’t the best player in the side and Lennon has been at least matching him in recent weeks.
Wednesday night Rafa was our best player with Benny close behind. Having started with a flurry of goals Rafa has been much quieter but once again finished with 90 minutes under his belt and a brilliant performance to match. A brilliant strike, a coolly taken penalty, tackling back with vigour and creating some great moves with imaginative passes.
Benny continues where he left off in the previous game. His checks inside, once a reason for holding your breath, are now viewed as solid and his distribution of the ball has been good. He also has deceptive strength which he uses to good effect. As Spurs players go this season he must be a contender in the player of the season awards.
But it didn’t stop there as we turned over Arsenal breaks into attacks of our own with every member of the side playing there part. Kaboul took over from where Charlie had left off and provided a fabulous cross which Luka hit first time only to see the goal keepers foot clear the ball. Sandro too broke into the box and hit a powerful shot that somehow managed to sit under the keeper’s legs with attackers waiting for the follow up.
So two points dropped but really a point won as we came back from a second two goal deficit against Arsenal in a season. This time we couldn’t win it but it provided a creditable result in a match many have suggested to be the match of the season so far.
Whether this will allow us to make the top 4 is another question altogether. Our three away games loom large and the quality of opposition and current form suggests that we may have to compromise, if that is possible, on the attacking side of our midfield to try and prevent us being behind. Roll on Saturday and West Bromwich Albion.