By Richard Clarke
Arsenal's cherished and historic unbeaten run against Tottenham has come to an end.
Arsène Wenger suffered his first defeat against the old enemy in 21 games as his young side were beaten 5-1 at White Hart Lane in the Carling Cup Semi-Final second leg on Tuesday night.
Tottenham had dominated the opening rubber but the tie was delicately poised at 1-1 when the first whistle blew tonight. However, just three minutes later, Jermaine Jenas danced through and rolled home a long-range shot in off the base of the post.
Arsenal were playing a more experienced side than in the first leg but, in the 27th minute, Tottenham doubled their advantage when Nicklas Bendtner nodded a Jenas free-kick past his own keeper. Robbie Keane rifled home a third three minutes after the break and Aaron Lennon added a fourth on the hour. That effectively ended this North London argument.
Five minutes after coming off the bench, Emmanuel Adebayor gave the scoreline a little respectability on the night with a fierce drive. Arsenal pressed until the end but Steed Malbranque added a fifth in injury time to put the seal on a painful night.
Undoubtably this was a disappointing, even dispiriting, defeat for Arsenal. Their players left the pitch head-bowed at full time as their Tottenham counterparts did a lap of honour.
The home fans received them with an adoration that will last a good while but those who leaf through the record books in the years to come will see Arsenal's defeat tonight was preceded by eight seasons of joy.
That should not be forgotten either.
Before kick-off, Wenger had suggested he'd play as many of the more established youngsters as he could - then pack the side with first-teamers. That is what he did.
Lukasz Fabianski, Denilson, Bendtner, Theo Walcott and Justin Hoyte all started. We knew William Gallas would be employed at centre back - Wenger was without four players in that position. Bacary Sagna came in at right back while Abou Diaby and Alex Hleb flanked Gilberto and Denilson in midfield.
The big guns were reserved for the bench. Cesc Fabregas, Eduardo, Mathieu Flamini and Adebayor all had 'just-in-case' roles this evening.
White Hart Lane was packed and passionate tonight. The home side were hardly playing down the game. In the build-up Dimitar Berbatov had called it 'Tottenham's game of the year'. The roar at first whistle suggested the crowd concurred.
That noise had barely subsided when Tottenham took the lead. Berbatov tapped a pass to Jenas in midfield and he was allowed to advance to the edge of the area and plant a trickling shot into the net off the far post.
You sensed it could be hammer blow in the tie. Certainly it buoyed the home team and Arsenal had to cope with an inquisition in the minutes that followed.
The pressure was eased in the 11th minute when Hleb and Bendtner combined for the Dane to rifle a shot a few feet over the bar.
But, on the quarter-hour, Keane pestered his way past Gallas on the byline and Hoyte hurriedly hacked his dangerous cross out of the six-yard area.
By this time Denilson had already needed treatment for a leg injury. In the 18th minute he was forced to retire and Fabregas came off the bench. The Spaniard's appearance was déjà vu from last year when he had orchestrated Arsenal's recovery from two goals down.
And, with bitter irony, that was just about to become a reality again. Jenas floated a free-kick into the area from the left and Bendtner rose high above Dawson. However, his touch inadvertently took the ball past Fabianski.
It might have been 3-0 in the 29th minute when Berbatov sprung the offside trap and raced through. He had plenty of time to steady himself but the Bulgarian's shot hit the outside of the far post.
To this point, Arsenal had not really troubled Cerny. But the Tottenham keeper was called into action shortly afterwards when Sagna flicked on a Fabregas corner.
The home side cruised into half time sated with their lead. However Arsenal responded after the restart with vigour.
Yet, as in the first half, they conceded easily and early. Lennon's long ball sent Keane clear in the left-hand channel with Hoyte and Sagna in pursuit.
The Irishman did well to wrap his foot around the ball. Fabianski got a touch but it still found its way into the corner of the net.
Arsenal might have responded immediately. Walcott darted to the byline and chipped a cross to the far post. Bendtner's header crashed down off the bar and Fabregas' follow-up was cleared.
The visitors were now pressing forward and they were wide open to the counter-attack. Malbranque raced through and his shot squirmed through Fabianksi's grasp initially but the Pole recovered.
But there was little the keeper could do about the fourth in the 59th minute. It was another breakaway. This time it was Lennon who emerged in space on the right of the area. The former Leeds midfielder drilled his shot low through the legs of the keeper.
It was now looking beyond a merely forlorn hope.
Wenger played his last hand with 25 minutes left when Adebayor and Eduardo replaced Traore and Walcott.
Within five minutes the Togolese frontman had wriggled through a couple of challenges on the edge of the area and thumped a rising shot past Cerny.
Such was Adebayor's urgency to get his side back into the game he earned a booking and then a last warning from referee Howard Webb, who officiated calmly and sensibly on the night.
In injury time Malbranque turned in a low cross from close range to complete the visitors' agony.
When Webb blew the whistle at full time, White Hart Lane erupted. Arsenal's proud record was over.
However Wenger's men will have ample opportunity to create their own glory later on this season.
- Hoyte Yellow Card
- Traore 65
- Denilson 19
- Walcott 65
- Fabregas 19
- Eduardo 65
- Adebayor 65 Goal! Yellow Card
- Jenas Goal! Yellow Card
- Malbranque Goal! Yellow Card
- Lennon 73 Goal!
- Berbatov 63
- Keane 63 Goal!
- Huddlestone 73
- Boateng 63
- Defoe 63