By Richard Clarke
Arsenal produced a storming second-half comeback to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Saturday and extend Arsène Wenger's incredible run against their near-neighbours.
The Frenchman went into this game with a stunning record of P25 W12 D12 L1 but that looked under serious threat this afternoon when, in the 15th minute, Gareth Bale's curling free-kick beat Manuel Alumina at his near post.
Indeed had Dimitar Berbatov not been dispossessed by Kolo Toure's last-ditch challenge just after half-time then Tottenham would have certainly picked up their first victory against the old enemy since November 7 1999.
However two goals in 15 minutes turned this scintillating games on its head. Just past the hour, Adebayor nodded in a left-wing free-kick from Fabregas. The next strike was all the Spaniard's own work - a long-range piledriver 10 minutes from the whistle. In extra time, Adebayor added a wonderful third when he volleyed home from the edge of the area.
It was an incredible turnaround - even in the context of the drama conjured up in this fixture over the years.
Just to make the day complete, the three points sent Arsenal top of the Premiership.
In the build-up to this game, Wenger had talked of a number of "difficult decisions" he would be forced to make. In the end he chose the XI most had expected.
The absence of Philippe Senderos (suspended) and William Gallas (groin) meant Gilberto moved from central midfield to centre half. He was replaced in the middle by Mathieu Flamini which, in turn, meant Bacary Sagna returned at right back.
As ever, Derby Day was a mixture of the exciting and the excruciating. The teams had started the season in vastly differing ways however form is never a guide to your fortunes in a neighbourly fixture such as this.
The recent trend of Tottenham tearing into Arsenal from the first whistle was bucked this afternoon. The opening stages were relatively even with the visitors perhaps looking slightly the more lively side.
Gael Clichy burst down the left and beat a couple of covering defenders but failed to get the ball into the area. Then Emmanuel Adebayor's long-range effort forced a flying Paul Robinson to palm the ball aside.
Tottenham had pressure and possession but they created nothing to match that effort from the Arsenal striker before they took the lead.
In the 15th minute Gilberto brought down Berbatov just outside the area. Bale stepped up to expertly curl the ball around the wall and beat Almunia at his near post.
Adebayor nearly provided an immediate response but Robinson threw himself to his left to palm the ball aside after the Togolese striker won some space on the right.
Arsenal continued to pass the ball with probing purpose. In the 24th minute, Fabregas and Adebayor brought the ball forward and set up Hleb, whose drive was parried by Robinson. Van Persie then fired a low drive dangerously across the face of goal. No-one was on hand to convert.
Six minutes later Arsenal carved out an even better chance. Hleb darted in from the right, slipped his marker and spotted the unmarked Diaby on the left of the area. The Frenchman's rising drive beat Robinson but smashed off the bar and away to safety. Arsenal were creating sufficient chances to be in front. They could not afford to keeping missing them.
To this point, Tottenham had not built on their goal. But they rallied and six minutes before the break Keane nearly ghosted in an effort at the far post.
The home side continued to look the stronger as the second half opened. Five minutes in, Berbatov broke clear and skipped past Almunia to leave himself with just Toure beat. The Ivorian defender slid in to expertly dispossess the Bulgarian. If Spurs were not to win this game it would be seen as the key moment.
Adebayor responded immediately once again. Sagna kept the ball in play on the right and fed a clever ball back into the middle of the area. Like Diaby some minutes earlier, the striker leant to far back and his shot flew over the bar. In addition Arsenal had a strong shout for a penalty Robinson appeared to clip Adebayor.
The game was now becoming stretched. Chances were being created - and missed - at both ends.
Younes Kaboul nodded over and Tom Huddleston volleyed wide as Tottenham and their profligacy would come back to haunt them. In the 65th minute Arsenal won a free kick on the left, Fabregas floated it over and Adebayor rose unmarked to steer a header home. It was the cue for pandemonium among the pocket of visiting fans.
Arsenal now scented victory. In the 70th minute Adebayor set up Van Persie to fire a low effort at Robinson then Fabregas rifled wide.
Tottenham could have edged in front 10 minutes from the end when Clichy knocked Berbatov's effort off the line and then striker nodded over the rebound from close range. It seemed that the hosts had got over the equaliser and were looking for all three points.
It would be a fruitless search.
With 10 minutes left Fabregas picked up the ball in the middle of midfield with little support around him. He let fly with a speculative effort. It whistled past Robinson and into the far corner.
An already dramatic game looked set for fairy-tale ending from the visiting perspective.
Jol brought on Darren Bent in the close stages. The former Charlton striker was quickly into the game - missing his kick with a spectacular over head effort and stumbling a tame effort wide after racing clear.
In injury time, Denilson went clear but could only produce a weak shot at Robinson. However Arsenal recycled possession and the move ended with Adebayor teeing himself up for a sumptuous volley over Robinson and into the net
A wonderful finish to a wonderful comeback for Wenger's side.
- Sagna Yellow Card
- Hleb 90 Yellow Card
- Fabregas Goal!
- Diaby 56
- van Persie 85
- Adebayor Goal! Goal!
- Denilson 85
- Rosicky 56
- Song 90
- Chimbonda Yellow Card
- Bale 69 Goal!
- Malbranque 82
- Jenas Yellow Card
- Lennon 69
- Bent 82