Arsenal reignite their season with heroic derby victory over Spurs
Premier League: Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2
Arsenal breathed new life into the their stuttering season today, pulling themselves up off the floor to fight back from two goals down and win a pulsating north London derby.
Last season Tottenham fought back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at the Emirates – and the Gunners avenged that defeat in style this afternoon, just when their campaign seemed to be heading for a whole new low.
Suffering from a 4-0 Champions League defeat at AC Milan and an FA Cup exit at Sunderland, the Gunners made the worst possible start and found themselves 2-0 down after 35 minutes following goals from Louis Saha and, of all people, the ex-Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
A third successive loss would have left Arsene Wenger’s side three points behind Chelsea in the race for the top four.
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But goals from Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie levelled the scores at half-time – and a Tomas Rosicky strike was followed by a Theo Walcott double as the hosts ran riot in the second half, and reignited their campaign.
Tottenham still lead their local rivals by seven points this evening, but the manner of their defeat will surely hurt.
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And things went from bad to worse for the Lilywhites as Scott Parker was sent off late on, ruling him out of next weekend’s clash with Manchester United at White Hart Lane.
Arsenal were buoyed by the return of Laurent Koscielny and Kieron Gibbs, allowing Wenger the rare luxury of fielding four defenders who were all playing in their natural positions.
With Andrey Arshavin leaving for Russia and Aaron Ramsey out injured, there was a rare start for Yossi Benayoun, while Walcott was preferred to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flank.
Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp opted for a very similar side to the one that had thumped Newcastle 5-0 in Tottenham’s previous league outing – the only difference being that Younes Kaboul replaced Michael Dawson in the back line.
Having missed the FA Cup tie against Stevenage through injury and illness, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Luka Modric, and Adebayor all started.
Rafael van der Vaart also returned but was named among the Spurs substitutes, which also included Dawson, Sandro, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe.
In the build-up to the game, Redknapp had stressed the need for a strong start, making the most of Arsenal’s poor form by frustrating the hosts and – just as importantly – the crowd.
With that in mind, the Spurs boss could not have asked for a better opening, as Tottenham took the lead inside four minutes.
Adebayor freed Saha, who had been left entirely unmarked in the centre of field and, when Thomas Vermaelen eventually reached him, the Belgian defender only succeeded in deflecting Saha’s shot over Wojchiech Szczesny.
It was a disaster for Arsenal and, as predicted, the Emirates faithful immediately turned on their side, with Walcott taking the brunt of the fans’ anger.
The home side rallied though, appealing for two penalties in quick succession as Gibbs went down under a challenge from Kyle Walker, while Parker escaped a loud shout for handball in the box.
Van Persie sent a 15th-minute effort inches wide of the post, and he went just as close moments later as a 25-yard shot clipped Kaboul’s heels and whistled into the advertising boards.
The chances kept coming and, from the ensuing corner, Brad Friedel was forced into a fine save to tip Rosicky’s flicked header over the bar.
However, Spurs were looking dangerous on the break and suddenly they had a penalty at the other end of the field as Modric released Gareth Bale, who felt a touch from the diving Szczesny in the box and hit the turf.
The Gunners keeper escaped a card – and it could have been a red – but it didn’t seem to matter as Adebayor stepped up to convert.
With 34 minutes gone, Spurs appeared to be heading for one of the brightest highlights of a stunning season, while Arsenal’s misery seemingly had no limits.
But the picture changed in a matter of moments as the Gunners heroically picked themselves up, regrouped and hit back with two vital goals before half-time.
With five minutes of the first half remaining, Spurs narrowly escaped another Van Persie effort as the Dutchman’s low strike cannoned back off the post – but Mikel Arteta floated the ball back into the box, and Sagna leapt to head home.
The Gunners deserved their goal – and the equaliser followed three minutes later as Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s unconvincing clearance dropped to Van Persie, who swivelled on the edge of the box and whipped a trademark left-footed finish past Friedel.
Redknapp reacted with a double substitution at the break, with Van der Vaart and Sandro replacing Saha and Kranjcar.
There was no change in the momentum after the interval though, and Friedel was forced into a superb low save from Rosicky before the Czech midfielder gave the Gunners a 51st-minute lead, prodding home from Sagna’s low cross.
The much-maligned Walcott went close just before the hour-mark, firing millimetres wide – but the England winger found the net in the 65th minute, and then again in the 68th, to end the contest.
It could have been six as Walcott freed Rosicky, who shot wide – but Tottenham’s misery was completed in the 87th minute as Parker picked up his second booking and received his marching orders.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Jenkinson 75), Rosicky, Song, Arteta, Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain 82), Benayoun, Van Persie
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, King (Dawson 82), Assou-Ekotto, Kranjcar (Sandro), Modric, Parker, Bale, Saha (Van der Vaart), Adebayor