Note: I wrote this in the week, but due to internet complications I have been unable to publish it. It felt a shame not to do so, and I so enjoyed writing it. I made some amendments based on this week’s game:
I have been professing all season that this Sp*rs are tremendously over-rated and crumble whenever they come under any pressure. Also, that they will fall apart come late February. See their games with the two Manchester clubs (tomorrow’s visit to Old Trafford completing the set), Fulham away, wherein they only salvaged a point by cheating, Stoke away - Chris Foy’s performance aside, they were 2-0 down within half an hour and only got back into the game thanks to a dive from Luka Modric - and they only got the win against a very poor Arsenal in October because we were terrible and they got goals through a handball and a fluke. I have also been shouting to all those who will listen that they are very, very poor without Emmanuel Adebayor and typically, he disappears come the end of February (I still hold a grudge about his abysmal showing against Birmingham in 2008 and subsequent poor performances). And here we were on February 26th! As well as that, it may just have been my internal bias, but whenever I have watched Sp*rs over 90 minutes - only against bigger teams and when their games have been on Sky - I have been very unimpressed. Their main tactic seems to be either lump the ball t’big man or give it to Bale or Lennon for a counterattack. No surprise it has fallen short against the bigger teams.
I had found myself growing worried about the game over the course of the previous week, but come Sunday morning, I could not help but embrace the feeling that Derby Day always creates. Living in a house that backs onto Highbury and which is less than a minute from the Emirates, there is a certain atmosphere that is evident on the day of the North London Derby with the first glance at the street below. A late rising meant that the lineups were already available when I awoke. To describe my feeling I borrowed a quote from 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan - “I’m scared… but I’m also excited!”. This was the first time in living memory when they came to our ground thinking they would give us a trouncing. All the ‘Mind the Gap’ jibes in mid-February have taken their toll, to a degree. As it always is for the greater occasions - and only them - the Emirates was in full voice.
Even when Louis Saha benefited from the great grandmother of all deflections to put them ahead, there was singing and a strong belief that we would come back among the fans. We pressed, we attacked, we were the better side, but were susceptible to their pace. Bale picked up a Modric pass and darted between Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen. As he bore down on goal, the left back did enough to block him from rounding Wojciech Szczesny, while our Pole in the goal had done the same from the other angle. Only one optioned remained for real life’s equivalent to Mr Teeny of the Simpsons: he leapt. He leapt like no man had ever leapt before. His arms extended, he returned to the floor to the sound of angry shouts from the home crowd but more importantly, the whistle of Mike Dean, signalling that his cheating had earned him a penalty. And of all people to step up and promptly convert, it was the man who played six good months for us and left for Manchester City, before he fell out of favour and had now found himself at the bottom rung of society - Tottenham Hotspur. A sort of pre-cursor to Samir Nasri, if you will.
2-0 down. To them. For the negative, it could only get worse. For the bright side-looking idealist, we were only half an hour in, playing the better football and with a stronger team. We just needed a goal before half time, I told myself. I did fear for the rest of the game, but all it needed was one goal to get us back in it. We only had 5 minutes to wait for that. Bacary Sagna’s header reflected the team’s reaction. It was forceful, unstoppable and really bloody excellent. The momentum gathered, the belief increased and soon enough, we were level again, thanks to Robin van Persie.
The highest compliment I can give the strike is that it was one of which Dennis Bergkamp would be proud. There are few more complimentary things you can say about a piece of football; and it was not even his best goal of the season! (Everton at home claims that title). 2-2 going into half time, but had half time come too soon? We had really started to assert ourselves in the game and this was now to be interrupted. Doubtless ‘Arry would do his best to stem our flow, and he did, bringing on Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart and attempting to match our 4-2-1-3. But that could not stop us. Nothing could. Yossi Benayoun had a chance well saved by Brad Friedel, but they did not look as though they had the strength to stop us on this kind of form.
Before the game, I had read a rather interesting stat from @1DavidWall on the Twitter (highly recommended), stating that Tomas Rosicky had not scored in 49 Premier League games. 1 goal in 50 sounded like a nice, rounded stat. It seemed pre-destined. Maybe it was? Or maybe he was just really due for a goal, regardless of the actual number of games? Whatever it was, the Czech captain clearly decided that enough was most definitely enough. He strode forward in the Sp*rs half, nudged a pass to Sagna, and the French right back knocked the ball back into his path and with the deftest of flicks with the outside of his left boot, his goal drought was over. Friedel and Ledley King could only stare despondently at one another. What could they do? They were finished, and they knew it already. But we were far from done with our days work.
Theo Walcott had, to this point, played very much like Theo Walcott often does. Intelligent movement meant he was in the right places, but poor touches and a distinct absence of a decent final ball inspired audible frustration from the crowd. No booing though, as the fine men of Her Majesty’s Press would have you believe. Which left me conflicted - it is not like them at all to lie or to blow events, words and opinions out of proportion. Was this the start of something very sinister indeed?
I digress. Rosicky, on the counter, played the ball over to the isolated van Persie. He held off King and Younes Kaboul long enough for the very embodiment of inconsistency to arrive alongside him. He sent the ball to Walcott. His second touch inadvertently took him away from the goal, but he recovered wonderfully to chip the ball over Friedel and make it 4-2. A few minutes later, Alexandre Dmitri Song Billong (plays the holding role, scores the occasional goal), produced another stunning through ball to add to the collection he has built up this season, and Walcott made it 5 with a smart finish.
It was a marvellous day at the Emirates, but it was not on the same level as the night we beat Barcelona. Sp*rs fans have made their claims that it was ‘our cup final’, but they may want to look a little closer to home before saying that. They are the very same ones who have been making those ill-advised and ill-timed ‘Mind the Gap’ jibes, who have been proclaiming that ‘the balance of power has now shifted’ in North London. Last I checked, positions were not confirmed in February, one season with the mere possibility of you finishing above us does not make you in any way a bigger or better club than us, and how would you celebrate if you came back from two goals behind - not just to win - but to humiliate your rivals? I was there for their comeback last year and the 4-4. They were hateful experiences, standing with gritted teeth as your fans celebrated like they had won the World Cup, while they all put in orders for a variety of result celebrating merchandise. Imagine bringing out a DVD to celebrate a draw and one win against your near rivals. Then again, being a small club who lives only to fail at conquering their neighbours is an alien concept to me. I am 16 and have seen my team lift three league titles and four FA cups. Even the oldest of their fans has only seen them win two titles and four FA cups.
Their was a more savage pleasure about beating them this time around. They really thought they would cement themselves as North London’s Kings (for one season). Now their miraculous gap is down to four points. I have lived through 15 St. Totteringham’s Days, and I am eagerly anticipating the 16th.