Tottenham and Arsenal both miss out after north London derby thriller
Tottenham 3 Arsenal 3
In the end it was the result neither side wanted – but nobody could complain after a compelling north London derby ended all square at White Hart Lane.
The result all but extinguishes Arsenal’s faint title hopes, and at the same time leaves Tottenham with plenty of work to do to emulate last season’s achievement of finishing in the coveted top four.
Spurs will feel perhaps a little more satisfaction, having recovered from being 3-1 down five minutes before half-time, but Harry Redknapp will also know his side had the better chances late in the game to secure their first league double over Arsenal for 18 years.
They did not achieve that, but the blue and white hordes headed home safe in the knowledge that their bitter rivals are now almost certain to complete a sixth season without tangible reward.
Both sides had started the game knowing a win was vital for respective challenges for the title and the top four, and Arsene Wenger had sprung a minor selection surprise by omitting the newly-crowned PFA Young Player of the Year Jack Wilshere in midfield, instead favouring the power of Alex Song and Abou Diaby.
Harry Redknapp was again forced to choose between his strike trio, and once more it was Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko who were preferred over Jermain Defoe.
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Striking dilemmas were soon forgotten, however, when the game started in almost unbelievable fashion with three goals inside the opening 11 minutes.
Arsenal struck first, Cesc Fabregas releasing Theo Walcott beyond the Spurs back line, and the Englishman calmly slipping a shot beyond the advancing Heurelho Gomes to silence White Hart Lane.
The Tottenham faithful did not need to be quiet for long. Just as they had done against Liverpool on Sunday, Arsenal conceded within 90 seconds of scoring.
There looked to be little danger when Vedran Corluka’s infield ball found Rafael van der Vaart, but the Dutchman took advantage of some sloppy marking from Diaby to wriggle into space and bury a fine effort inside Wojciech Szczesny’s left-hand post.
Suddenly memories of epic derbies from recent years were rekindled – the 4-4 draw at the Emirates in 2008 and the crazy game in 2004 that saw Arsenal triumph 5-4 at White Hart Lane.
Those thoughts weren’t going away when Samir Nasri restored Arsenal’s lead in the 12th minute, and it was not a goal the Tottenham defence will look back upon fondly.
Michael Dawson backed away from the Frenchman, and when he let fly from outside the box, Gomes appeared unsighted and dived too late to stop a rasping shot from finding the net.
Wenger could be seen on the Arsenal bench imploring his side to settle down, but he should probably know by now that they do not possess that defensive gene. Both sides kept attacking in a frenetic first half.
Van der Vaart tried his luck from distance before Walcott had a fine chance to make it 3-1, again racing clear of the Spurs defence but this time sliding his shot wide of the far post.
The game did finally settle down for a few minutes, but when Arsenal had their next chance they were not so profligate.
Five minutes before the break former Gunner William Gallas made a hash of a cross from Bacary Sagna, and when Walcott chipped the ball delicately back into the six-yard box, Van Persie saw his first header saved by Gomes but followed up to drive the rebound high into the net.
Had Arsenal learned their lessons from the opening minutes and from Sunday’s draw with Liverpool? Of course not – Spurs had halved the deficit within three minutes, Tom Huddlestone scorching a low effort past Szczesny to send the sides and supporters in at half-time scratching their heads after a quite breathless first half.
Spurs re-emerged for the second period having made two changes. Bale, who had been involved in two jarring collisions with Szczesny, made way for Aaron Lennon, while Younes Kaboul replaced Corluka at right-back. Arsenal were also soon forced into a change as Diaby limped off and was replaced by Wilshere.
Van der Vaart instantly had two chances for an equaliser, first curling a free-kick narrowly wide and then seeing a fierce left-footed effort brilliantly tipped away by Szczesny.
The pattern of play for the second half was set – Arsenal enjoyed plenty of possession, but whenever Spurs poured forward they looked like a goal was within their capabilities.
Arsenal also created openings, again the best of them falling to Walcott who nutmegged Benoit Assou-Ekotto and sprinted into the box only to waste the opportunity by hesitating at the crucial moment.
But the home side seemed to have more penetration, although when they did equalise it was gifted to them by Arsenal, or more specifically Szczesny.
The Polish keeper had already made some telling clearances, but on 69 minutes he raced out to stop Lennon and caught the Spurs winger nipped the ball beyond him and crashed to the turf.
Martin Atkinson did not hesitate in pointing to the penalty spot, and Van der Vaart sent Szczesny the wrong way from the spot to level it up at 3-3. Twenty minutes remaining for either side to claim a famous win.
White Hart Lane erupted and, momentarily, it looked like Arsenal may wilt under the pressure, Szczesny making a fine reaction save with his feet to deny Luka Modric after Kaboul had crossed from the right flank.
He denied Van der Vaart again in a frantic final 10 minutes and also tipped a Crouch header over the bar as Spurs pressed for the winner.
They did not get it, and both sides left the field looking a little deflated. They should not have, because this was a game of such quality and drama it was perhaps only right that neither side ended up defeated.
Tottenham: Gomes. Corluka (Kaboul, 46), Assou-Ekotto, Dawson, Gallas, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale (Lennon, 46), Van der Vaart, Pavlyuchenko (Sandro, 78), Crouch.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Clichy, Koscielny, Djourou, Song, Diaby (Wilshere, 50), Fabregas, Walcott (Arshavin, 80), Nasri (Bendtner, 80), Van Persie.