By Richard Clarke
Tottenham recorded their first victory on Arsenal territory in 17 years amid incredible scenes at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The home side seemed to have the game under control in the first half. Samir Nasri’s persistence paved the way for the first goal and then Marouane Chamakh slid in another from Andrey Arshavin’s cross.
However, Gareth Bale started the revival five minutes after the restart and then, just before the hour, Cesc Fabregas was adjudged to have handled from a free-kick and Rafael van der Vaart scored from the spot.
Five minutes from time, the Dutchman floated over a free-kick from the right and Younes Kaboul touched a delicate header into the far corner.
It was a stupefying comeback on a day that could have seen Arsenal go top of the table.
Wenger’s men had put themselves in that position with back-to-back away wins. However there is little home comfort for them at the moment.
This is the third defeat in their last five Premier League games at Emirates Stadium. But while the wins for West Brom and Newcastle were painful for a day or so this one will ache for a long, long time.
It was Tottenham’s first victory in Arsenal’s new home.
That is difficult enough to digest. What it did to the title ambitions of Wenger’s side can be assessed later.
Derby day is always special but this one had received a bigger build-up than most. For the first time, the visitors came with Champions League credentials. Finishing fourth last season had led some to suggest the gap between the two sides had closed. On this cold, bright North London afternoon that theory would be put to the test.
Wenger made two changes from the side that had won so well at Everton last Sunday.
Denilson replaced Jack Wilshere, just like he had at half-time at Goodison Park. Laurent Koscielny returned from suspension so Johan Djourou dropped to the bench. Given his form, the Swiss centre back could count himself unfortunate to miss out.
Last season, William Gallas had occupied that role. Today he led out a Tottenham side with higher ambition than any other in recent memory.
Both sides conjured up cheeky chances in the opening five minutes. First, Bale backflicked Van der Vaart’s corner into the hands of Lukasz Fabianski at the near post. Then Nasri shoveled a pass over two Tottenham defenders to Fabregas on the right-hand byline but Heurelho Gomes intercepted at the near post.
However the keeper would soon be found wanting. In the 10th minute, Fabregas fed a pass forward towards Nasri, who had already shown his attacking intent this afternoon. The Frenchman chased after the ball but Gomes was favourite. Inexplicably the keeper then retreated a few paces before going for the ball. That allowed Nasri to poke it clear. However there still was much more to do.
The ball raced away towards the touchline and by the time Nasri reached it, he only had a sliver of the goal to aim at. Somehow he managed to hook his foot around the ball and trickle a shot over the line. It was his eighth goal of the campaign, bringing him level with Chamakh as top scorer. Temporarily, as it turned out.
The goal injected a confidence into Arsenal’s game. Fabregas wriggled clear on the right of the area and fired beyond the far post.
Midway through the half, Kaboul sent over a dangerous cross that Bacary Sagna flicked clear of Roman Pavlyuchencko and then headed over himself as the visitors mounted a modicum of pressure. But immediately after that, Arsenal stretched their lead.
Fabregas broke through the midfield and fed Arshavin on the right. His probing cross was touched home by the stumbling Chamakh. With just 27 minutes played, Arsenal were already cruising.
Luka Modric saw a shot batted away by Fabianski but Van der Vaart’s wild, wasteful shot suggested frustration had already set in.
The visitors continued to plough forward until the break. Fabianski was forced into a little caretaking but Chamakh caused much more consternation with a couple of moments just before the break. First he saw a shot charged down in a crowded area and then he went clear for a second but the ball got stuck under his feet and Spurs smuggled the ball away.
At the break, Tottenham brought on Jermain Defoe for Aaron Lennon. The England striker had been out for months with an injury but Harry Redknapp simply needed something different in his side.
Within five minutes, Defoe helped the visitors grab a foothold in the game.
It was his high hanging header that saw the Arsenal defence back off and allow Van der Vaart to feed the overlapping Bale. The Welshman took the ball in his stride and nudged it past Fabianski. A poor, poor goal to concede.
Suddenly Arsenal were anxious. The confidence of the opening half-hour had not exactly disappeared but they were now facing a side who had rediscovered itself.
Luka Modric danced through and blasted over as Tottenham looked for immediate parity. The home side responded with pressure of their own but, in the 67th minute, Tottenham did go level.
Alex Song fouled Modric 25 yards out and Van der Vaart fired his free-kick into the wall which was standing in the penalty area. The ball definitely hit the hand of Fabregas, which had been raised. The captain claimed he was protecting his face when the referee pointed to the spot.
When the protests had died down, Van der Vaart sent Fabianski the wrong way.
Squillaci’s header was ruled offside shortly afterwards then Fabregas fired a volley over the bar. Arsenal were stung.
Wenger was clearly going for it.
Arsenal did create the better chances. Fabregas tried a curler but Gomes patted the ball beyond the far post. Then, with 15 minutes left, an unmarked Koscielny headed over the bar at the far post.
But Tottenham were still dangerous. Eight minutes from time, only Song’s strength stopped Van der Vaart pouncing after a scramble six yards out.
Then they grabbed the winner. Koscielny brought down Bale on the left and, from Van der Vaart’s expert delivery, Kaboul nudged a header into the far corner.
In the dying minutes, Arsenal mustered a response but not the chances to go with it.
This was a head-scratching afternoon for Wenger’s men who took two giant strides forward last week but took an almighty pace back this afternoon.
Winning the title will more than right this wrong but to do that they must arrest their sliding home form.
- Koscielny Yellow Card
- Sagna Yellow Card
- Denilson Yellow Card
- Arshavin 76
- Nasri 76 Goal!
- Chamakh 68 Goal!
- Walcott 76
- Rosicky 76
- van Persie 68
- Bale Goal!
- Kaboul Goal!
- Van der Vaart 88 Goal! Yellow Card
- Lennon 45
- Pavlyuchenko 74
- Palacios 88
- Defoe 45
- Crouch 74