Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:32 26/02/12 By John Cross
Reports of Arsene Wenger’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Robin van Persie led an amazing Arsenal fightback, finished off with a flourish by Theo Walcott to complete an unforgettable derby.
It will also go down as proof that the Arsenal players still believe in Wenger and are determined not to let the power shift across north London.
Arsenal were two down inside 32 minutes, it was the ultimate test of their character and they dug deep in a sensational comeback.
Van Persie typified that spirit, but Walcott, more than any other player, embodied the extremes that have plagued Arsenal’s season.
Walcott struggled in the first half largely because the fans got on his back. The mental strength required to score twice and use his pace to tear apart Tottenham’s creaking defence was incredible.
That is the story of Arsenal’s season. Infuriating and brilliant in equal measure to leave the fans wondering. Yet when Wenger is under siege, the players still dig deep for him.
It was the response Wenger was looking for after the Milan mauling and, even though it did not happen at Sunderland last week, the players delivered a display that humiliated their neighbours.
Tottenham went to Arsenal as most people’s favourites for probably the first time in Wenger’s 16-year reign yet they could not take the final step.
The game had barely taken shape when Tottenham took a fourth-minute lead. Gareth Bale found Emmanuel Adebayor, Laurent Koscielny slipped, the Spurs striker found Louis Saha and his shot deflected cruelly into the net off Thomas Vermaelen.
Arsenal fans were shell shocked but stuck with their team – apart from directing stick towards Walcott.
Van Persie missed a sitter, the outstanding Tomas Rosicky saw a header brilliantly saved by Brad Friedel and they had Spurs pinned back.
But Spurs hit Arsenal on the counter attack as Luka Modric released Bale, the Welshman’s pace took him past Kieran Gibbs and he went down under keeper Wojciech Szczesny’s diving challenge.
No end of TV replays could end the debate as to whether it was a penalty. But it looked harsh and perhaps that explained why referee Mike Dean did not send off Szczesny.
Adebayor stepped up and powered his shot past Szczesny. Adebayor celebrated and got stick even though he did not receive the same hatred as earlier in the season.
Maybe the Arsenal fans were too busy shouting at their own team to care too much. The Spurs fans were in dreamland but, two down and in desperate trouble, Arsenal responded brilliantly.
Van Persie hit the post and you began to wonder if it was going to be one of those days. But Arsenal got back in it after 41 minutes. Gibbs found Mikel Arteta and his cross was headed home powerfully by Bacary Sagna.
Two minutes later, Van Persie showed sensational skill. He worked some space, turned on the edge of the box then curled a brilliant left-foot shot beyond Friedel into the top corner.
Arsenal were in charge. Redknapp made a double change at half time and on came Rafael van der Vaart and Sandro for Niko Kranjcar and Saha respectively. But rather than stem the tide, it handed the initiative to Arsenal.
Friedel had already pulled off a great save from Yossi Benayoun before Arsenal took the lead. Rosicky sent Sagna away down the right and the Czech midfielder raced to get on the end of the cross and fired home.
Walcott showed his intent with a great run and shot which hit the post. The Gunners got another when Rosicky’s ball forward found Van Persie, the Dutchman held off two defenders and fed Walcott, who raced through to score.
Walcott scored again as Sagna turned provider again and the England winger raced into the penalty box, held his nerve and buried a shot into the far corner.
Tottenham were on the ropes. Their nightmare got worse when Scott Parker was sent off for a second bookable offence after an awful late foul on Vermaelen.
Fourth place is still in Wenger’s sights. And Arsenal fans can still dream of finishing above the old enemy.