Before we go on, an optional soundtrack to this blog post:
It was a bit of a different team out there today - Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny both passed late fitness tests, so the defense picked itself. Yossi Benayoun got a rare start in the center midfield three, while Tomas Rosicky continued out on the wing.
The side started off slowly, as Tottenham tore into us from the off. The same lethargy that permeated through the side in the AC Milan and Sunderland games was in effect again. When Tottenham scored four minutes in, at the time, it wasn't that much of a surprise.
In fairness to us though, it was a bit of a fluke. Our old enemy Emmanuel Adebayor moved down the left-hand side, on the counter, with Koscielny in attendance. The Frenchman fell over in the wake of an admittedly-good move from the Togolese striker, and Spurs were away. The rest of the Arsenal defense were nowhere to be seen, having pushed way too far up. Adebayor passed it centrally to Louis Saha, but Thomas Vermaelen's desperate sliding block would have cleared it away 99 times out of 100. This time, of course, it looped into the air and caught Wojceich Szczesny off his line.
Needless to say, that was not the start we needed.
Still, Arsenal recovered enough to continue to contest things fairly evenly. Nine minutes in, we had a pretty strong penalty shout turned down by Mike Dean when Gibbs was bundled over in the area by Kyle Walker. I know, Dean fucking us over, I'm stunned too.
It was around here when, in the words of former WWE announcer Jim Ross, "business began to pick up". Szczesny flapped at a free kick and missed, and immediately thereafter they had a free kick taken quickly that caught out everyone but TV5. Arsenal were still swinging back though, with van Persie just putting his own rebound the wrong side of the post after his first effort was blocked by the defense.
The next two minutes saw two more chances for the men in red. Bacary Sagna's throw-in to RVP saw the Dutchman school Parker, but his shot was deflected by Younes Kaboul out for a corner. Off that corner, Tomas Rosicky of all people had a completely free header in a good location, but Brad Friedel showed impossibly-fast reflexes to claw it over the crossbar.
I mean, are you kidding me? Heads dropped some there, but we were still in the game.
The visitors were still a threat though, with Kyle Walker just missing a rebound after Adebayor forced Szczesny into a save. Up the other end, RVP got fouled by Scott Parker, earning Ward Cleaver a booking (foreshadowing alert!). We didn't do anything on the free kick, the importance of which was inflated at the time by the fact that the Scum doubled their lead a minute or two later.
Luka Modric played a brilliant pass into our penalty area, into the path of Gareth Bale. The primate-looking fucker got past Kieran Gibbs, and around the dive of Szczesny. Neither man touched him, but he still hurtled over as if a sniper from the roof had gotten him. Adebayor stepped up to take the penalty, and as he was placing it on the spot, Szczesny reminded me why I adore him so much. Clearly angry at the injustice of the call, he let Dean have a piece of his mind before beating his chest at Adebayor, daring the man to beat him. Adebayor did indeed do that with a fantastically-struck penalty, but the show of spirit from our young goalie was admirable and at least showed us that someone on the Gunners cared.
You know, it's weird. If the second goal conceded had just been a run-of-the-mill goal or even worse from a defensive breakdown, I think we might have done our usual collapsing act. The fact that the penalty was bullshit of the highest order though...I don't know, I think it may have galvanized the side.
Theo Walcott, as has been his wont all season, infuriated us with a play that had summed up much of our play this season. He latched onto a poor pass, and knocked it past a static Ledley King. If he knocked it ahead and used his pace, he was completely away and in alone on Friedel. Instead, he passed it laterally to RVP, who had about 163 defenders on him. Groans were lifted to the air (well, more like to the Pig's funky tiled ceiling, but you know what I mean).
I didn't think it was over, but I did think we were in a whole lot of trouble. We needed a moment of magic, a display of character from someone to haul us back into the contest.
Bacary Sagna gave us that moment.
Walcott's pass to van Persie this time saw the Dutchman with enough space to shoot from his favored left foot, but his shot agonizingly hit off the foot of the post. My exhortations of dismay led me to turn my eyes away from the screen for a few seconds. Apparently the ball stayed in play, and when I turned back, the Scum were all over the shop defensively. Benayoun looped a teasing cross into the area, and out of nowhere Sagna got absolutely everything behind his header. Friedel had no chance, and in seconds the momentum of the match tilted palpably.
I have to give this Arsenal team credit on the day. Whatever else has happened this season, they smelled a few drops of blood in a game of this magnitude and went into an absolute frenzy for the rest of the match. The lethargy was gone, replaced with relentless pressing, crisp passing and a determined directness to their play. Spurs may finish above us this season still, but today was a reminder that we have a gear that they just won't ever have.
Speaking of which, Arsenal were level three minutes later. Benoit Assou-Ekotto couldn't clear his lines, with his header landing right at RVP's feet. What happened next was a freakish reminder of another Dutch bloke who used to play up top for us - a shimmy, a half-turn, and a shot that deliciously curled away from the dive of Friedel and back inside the post. Fuck me, what a goal that was! It was another moment of sheer quality from a man who has given us so many of them this season.
That took us to halftime, and the visitors looked shell-shocked. We won't ever know what either manager said to their charges at halftime, but from this point on I knew we weren't going to lose this game. Harry Redknapp made two changes at halftime, Saha and Niko Krancjar replaced by Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart. Clearly, this was an attempt to get settled in the midfield again...but it didn't remotely work.
Two minutes into the second half, Spurs were cut to ribbons again, and again had their blushed spared only by Friedel's brilliance. This time, Mikael Arteta's through-ball found Benayoun in the area. The Israeli, who had a storming game, opened his body and dinked a lovely daisy-cutter towards the near corner. Friedel palmed it away to safety, sadly.
No matter, though. A blink of the eye later, Arsenal got the lead they would not relinquish. A rampaging run from Tomas Rosicky (that's not a typo, trust me!) went unchecked by the men in white. He laid it off to Sagna on the right, who crossed it in. Rosicky stole a march on his defender and just snuck ahead of him. Friedel came out expecting to scoop up the ball, but Rosicky toe-poke was just enough to redirect the ball past the big American and in.
Would you bloody believe it?
The joy on Tommy's face illuminated both the Blind Pig and our collective mood. If the Arsenal were rampant before, then their tails were well and truly up now. At no point thereafter was there ever more than one team in this game. Spurs looked like a haunted team, less chasing shadows than running in terror from them.
I wish you could see the smile on my face as I write this. I mean, I'm giddy...absolutely swimming in endorphins. This is why we invest so much of ourselves into all this, isn't it?
Anyway, Walcott saw another effort go wide of the post a bit later, but soon enough he was celebrating the goal that put his side two goals to the good. Tottenham had poured men forward in search of the equalizer, leaving them exposed to Rosicky's looped pass over the top. RVP faced off against the recovering Walker and King with the ball at his feet, and held it long enough for Walcott's late run to arrive. RVP played the simplest of balls over, but Walcott had the first touch of a woolly mammoth, sending it out wide. Still, he corralled the ball and chipped a gorgeous shot over Friedel and in. Like with Rosicky, unbridled catharsis came off of Walcott in waves. He's gotten a lot of stick lately and rightfully so, but that was a legitimately brilliant finish.
Walcott wasn't finished, though. With the visitors reeling, the young winger doubled his tally just three minutes later. It was almost a mirror image of the first goal, this time the looped ball over the top coming from Alex Song. RVP's intervention was not required this time, as the pass went directly to Walcott. The Spurs defense was nowhere with 17 postal codes of Walcott, leaving him time and space to hammer in his favored low diagonal finish past Friedel's outstretched leg and into the far corner.
Pick that one out!
The game was largely a procession from there, with Arsenal taking their feet off the pedal just a tad against a Spurs team with no interest in fighting back. Carl Jenkinson made a return to the side in place of Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on to give Walcott his richly-deserved standing ovation. It may be a little bit churlish to complain about the third substitution, but was this not the perfect opportunity to get Marouane Chamakh and/or Ju-Young Park on and see if this good feeling rubbed off on them at all? I like Gervinho and he'll be important for us in the run-in, but he did not need to come on in my opinion.
Still, that's a small worry today. The hilarity was complete when Scott Parker got a second yellow for scything down RVP...but in fairness, he showed a lot of class by displaying more concern for RVP's well-being than he did for the fact that he was off. You can slate me for saying this about a Spurs player all you want, but I wish we had signed him when we had the chance.
Enough about their lot, though. How awesome of a performance was that in the last 50 minutes of the game? How great was Benayoun? And Rosicky? And RVP? And Gibbs? And Walcott?
Seriously, Benayoun HAS to stay in the team now. HAS TO. Liverpool away is going to be a tough one, and three points are going to be desperately needed in our battle to stay in fourth.
In the meantime though, let's enjoy this. We can analyze and discuss the long-term ramifications about this at another time, we can sagely nod to each other about the overall state of the season later. Today, we revel in one simple phrase:
You mad, Spurs?
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7 (Jenkinson 7), Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 9, Rosicky 8, Song 7, Arteta 7, Benayoun 8 (Gervinho N/A), Walcott 9 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), van Persie 9
Man of the Match: This is one of those times where it is gloriously-difficult to pick one. RVP's goal was sublime, Rosicky emphatically ended his goal drought to give us the lead (and cap off a battling midfield performance), Benayoun easily had his best game in an Arsenal shirt, pulling strings in the middle. But, when we were down 2-0, one man stepped up and counted when it really fucking mattered. One man planted an unstoppable header to give us our belief back and plant that seed of doubt in the Tottenham "defense". One man did that AND assisted on the winning goal. Ladies and gentlemen, Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, Braids of gold, WOAH! Nah, nah Bacary Sagna!