For Arsenal fans’ the lead up to the North London Derby delivered its first sucker punch when it was announced by Robin Van Persie in Arsenal’s official match day programme that he will not consider extending his contract until the end of the season.
The Flying Dutchman’s current deal expires in 2013 and has attracted large interest from Barcelona, according to newspapers in Spain.
Robin clarified the situation in the programme by saying, ‘there have been a lot of stories, generally contradictory ones, about my contract situation recently so I’d like to make it clear,’ he said.
‘There’s nothing complicated or sinister – the Club and I have both agreed to speak at the end of the season and see how things stand. The boss, Ivan Gazidis and I are all comfortable with it. ‘I need all my focus to be on football – on captaining this team, improving every day, doing extra work on the training pitch and preparing for the very busy schedule of fixtures we have. If I look down the list, there’s not much time to sit down and think about anything else! For me, this is a time to play football and not speak about personal things. All of my energy needs to go on getting this team where we want it to be this season.’
That was just a taste of things to come. Just 4 minutes into the game, the stadium erupted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Arsenal celebrating. Spurs had taken the lead after a deflected Saha shot seemed to take forever to loop over Chesney’s head a bounce into the young ‘keepers empty net. The simple move had made Arsenals defence looked exposed like it has been all season. Song was out of position, Vermaelen was in no man’s land and Gibbs was out of his depth.
Then it got worse. 34 minutes Gibbs was beaten for pace and strength by Bale down Arsenal’s left before the Welshman distastefully dived over the sprawled-out arms of Chesney. Mike Dean, however, took the bait and awarded Spurs the penalty. Surely a red card for Chesney, right? Wrong. Mr. Dean confided with his assistant before deciding not to book the Arsenal keeper. Up stepped the much hated Adebayor. Emmanuel had scored 3 out of 4 penalties so far and his run up exuded confidence as he placed the ball just out of the reach of Chesney who dived well to his left. 2-0. The faces of the Spurs fans said game over. Arsenal’s players had other ideas.
On 40 minutes Arsenal’s comeback started. Van Persie’s right footed shot struck the post before the ball fell to Arteta who crossed for Sagna to head home with a beautiful, controlled header. Three minutes later Van Persie curled a superb shot beyond the helpless Friedel and equalise for Arsenal to the amazement of the fans. Game on.
The second half started with Redknapp making two changes to try and steady his shaky midfield. Sandro and Van Der Vaart came on for Kranjcar and Saha and Spurs went from a 442 to a 451 formation.
The changes made no difference, though, and after 6 minutes of the second half Arsenal had taken the lead for the first time in the match. The brilliant Rosicky scored his first goal in over 2 years and sent the fans into raptures. The comeback was complete. Arsenal was where they wanted to be.
It didn’t stop there though. Arsene’s faith in Walcott, despite fans’ pleas to take him off, paid off and the young forward, starting in his favoured striker role, went from zero to hero with a quick fire brace. His first came on 65 minutes when the striker coolly clipped the ball over Friedel, despite miss-controlling the pass from Van Persie, to finish off a superb ‘classic’ Arsenal move. His second came in a similar fashion as Theo raced away from the Spurs defence before slotting calmly into Friedel’s right-hand corner.
It went from bad to worse for Harry’s men as Scott Parker was sent off for a second bookable offence. The game, for Spurs, was over. The fans’ headed for the exits and Harry and his coaching staff could only sit and watch in misery.
The final whistle sparked pandemonium from the home fans’ and something Arsenal fans and players really needed to see, an Arsene Wenger smile.
Arsene Wenger later described the performance from his players as ‘perfect.’ He said ‘It was a performance full of everything you want from your team. It had team spirit, technique, resilience. It was an exciting game. We had a difficult start but kept going and showed great character again today. When you’re 2-0 down against a team in front of you with the quality they have, you need something exceptional.’
‘We refused to lose today, we kept going and in the end I think we had too much quality and drive.’ Asked if it is still a foregone conclusion that Spurs will finish ahead of them in the league, Wenger said: “I don’t think so. Mathematically we can come back. If we’re consistent, anything is possible.’
Van Persie had time to heap praise on the largely criticised Walcott. ‘If I speak about my friend, Theo, I think it is quite funny that he gets so much criticism,’ said the Dutchman. ‘He gave me loads of assists and I know, and everyone knows, that he can score, and he showed that today.’
There was, however some bad news for Arsenal injury wise as it emerged that Vermaelen picked up an ankle injury and Rosicky picked up a back injury.
It doesn’t matter though. This was the greatest victory in my living memory. This definitely beats my old favourite, the 5-1 victory against Inter Milan.
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Greetings fellow Gooners!
Well, if that wasn’t exactly what was needed I am unsure what was!
Marseille presented tonight’s test and, in truth, they seemed happy to spend most of the match playing very defensive football and hoping to catch us on the break. This is not a new tactic against Arsenal and, as has proved in the past, one that tends to be quite frustrating for our players resulting in heads dropping and lapses in concentration which have a habit of lead to some quite horrible consequences.
Wenger chose Rosicky over Ramsey, probably a choice guided by fitness and experience as much as anything else and Arshavin got the nod over Gervinho, but aside from this, we saw the team that we expected to with Santos and Jenkinson filling the wide berths alongside Mertesacker and Koscielny in the centre of defence, Arteta and Song in the centre of midfield with Walcott and Van Persie completing the line-up.
With the fairly defensive set-up of Marseille, the game was always going to be a testing affair and so it proved with neither side really creating a great deal in the first 45 minutes, although both teams had reason to feel a touch aggrieved after two fairly stand-out penalty claims. One in only the 14th minute when Jenkinson appeared to handle the ball without any real need to do so and plenty of time to get the offending mitt out of the way, and a second shout for Arsenal when, in the 21st minute a corner hit the outstretched hand of Diarra before Van Persie attacked the ball, looping it over the stranded Mandanda in the Marseille goal, only for Diarra to then be the one to clear the ball off the line.
How the referee missed the handball is frankly beyond me as the white ball hitting the black glove of Diarra was surely an easy spot?! But then again, if we had been given that penalty, things might have turned out differently in the end…And that could possibly be the worst thing that could have happened!
What ACTUALLY happened was this…
Arsenal went in at half-time looking frustrated and not a little lacklustre. Marseille had stuck to their task of ensuring that we did not score well as well as looking vaguely dangerous on the counterattack too. Coming out for the second half it was obvious that some magic words had been spoken in the Arsenal dressing room and, not for the first time this season, the break seemed to give us new impetus and an altogether more interesting sense of urgency. There were less of the long hopeful balls to the frontmen that we had seen in the first half and a good degree more purpose and poise in midfield with Rosicky and Arteta really starting to run a tidy shop whilst Song started to push a little further forward. Risky in parts, but effective until the last third of the field where, once again, we flattered to deceive seeing the lion’s share of possession but creating little of note aside from Walcott getting into the box but finding Mandanda up to the task from a tight angle on the edge of the six-yard box.
The old worries began to creep in again and when, in the 62nd minute, we were to be denied any further viewing of the seemingly boundless energy of young Carl Jenkinson (excellently compared to a young Pat Rice by ‘Holic – Thanks for that ‘Holic, I actually hadn’t drawn the comparison but you are quite correct ) who went off with a potentially nasty knee injury, hearts must have been fluttering at the sight of Johan Djourou once again on a football pitch in an Arsenal shirt! In fairness to Djourou, he actually stepped up well enough, covering the right hand side of the defence ably enough and getting a yellow card for a challenge that is one of the finest I have ever seen him make!
I have my fingers crossed the injury Jenkinson picked up is not too bad as we can ill afford it with our current injury list and, of equal importance, I am sure we will have to hear from a raft of “supporters” about how Wenger should have bought Richards, Miguel, Alves AND Zambrotta in the transfer window as well as coaxing Gary Neville out of retirement and that his failure to achieve all of the signings is simply an oversight on his part and further proof of his ineptitude and inability to run a football club with any degree of competency! The news coming from the Arsenal camp thus far is that he over-extended his knee and will undergo some tests tomorrow. That said, there doesn’t seem to be the usual panic surrounding this particular injury that we tend to see, so with any luck he will fit and playing again in the very near future.
So, a fairly insipid second half began to unfold, unaided by the french side becoming less and less willing to actually play any sort of attacking football at all. Lots of old habits and worrying habits began to surface. A constant air of impatience from the Arsenal players seeing more and longer balls thrown up towards Van Persie in the hopes that he would pull another magical rabbit out of his shorts coupled with plenty of possession but little end product were compounded by Marseille looking more and more like they would settle for a point thus parking more and more of the bus in front of their goal seemed destined to provide a 0-0 draw and, whilst not a disaster by any means, not the confidence-boosting, spirit-lifting, corner-turning win that we really could have done with. Clearly something needed to be changed if we were going to get the three precious points. Step in Arsene Wenger, the hopeless tactician infamous for having no “Plan B”!
On 67 minutes the entrance of Gervinho in place of Walcott who, to be fair, did get kicked to the ground almost every time he got the ball in anything like a dangerous position, although his crossing was an utter disgrace, upstaged totally in this area by Jenkinson, saw the injection of a new dimension to the attacking play. Good close control with the ball and a willingness to run into the channels without it, thus making himself available for a simple pass – something that we had been lacking desperately at times in the previous hour – gave Marseille a little more to think about whilst also spreading the play across to the wings once again, somewhere we had spent little quality time in the hour or so prior to his introduction.
The third substitution and second of a tactical nature came when, on 78 minutes, Arshavin was replaced by Ramsey who, whilst everybody surely expected Rosicky to move out to the left and leave Ramsey in the centre, seemed to have been given a fairly roaming brief, popping up on the edge of the box, the right, the left and in the defensive midfield slot when Song pushed forwards.
And it was the pair of Gervinho and Ramsey that finally broke Marseille’s and Deschamps’ hearts and filled ours with a joy and almost unbelievable relief that has been missing for a while now!
I know that being an Arsenal fan is a dramatic life and I know that sometimes we would all just prefer some run of the mill, old school wins, but in truth there are times when a touch of the extreme is what we really need to give everybody that “jolt” to take things forward.
And that “jolt” is exactly what we got!
With the referee adding a mere 3 minutes of extra time even after 5 substitutions and a decent stoppage for the injury to Jenkinson, it appeared that a point each would be the outcome and probably a fair one at that. In the 91st minute Van Persie found himself free in the penalty area after a lovely through ball from Gervinho, but when Mandanda proved to be up to the task of stopping him, there was an obvious sense that the last chance of the game had gone by…
…but that wouldn’t be very dramatic, very exciting, very ARSENAL, now would it?!
In the 92nd minute Djourou put in a cross from almost the halfway line that, whilst dangerous, whizzed across the back of Van Persie and a little too far behind Gervinho for him to control the ball. However, his inability to get the ball down would provide to be what may turn out to be one of the most important, though accidental, assists of our season as, right on cue and advancing like an unstoppable train in Arshavin’s position on the left of the penalty area appeared Aaron Ramsey. Collecting the ball cleanly he moved into the box unchallenged and, fooling the goalkeeper into believing that his shot was going across him into the far corner, kept his head and rifled it just inside the near post.
A moment of calm in the eye of the storm from a player who many seem to forget is still only 20 years old and has spent a year of his career in the treatment room after being “Shawcrossed”.
To be honest, I almost couldn’t cheer, at least for a few moments, such was the shock of us actually doing the unthinkable…Pulling off a win in the dying seconds rather than throwing away a lead and, above all, proving that we can “win ugly” too!
There are moments in a season at which you can look back and say “that is where it all went wrong” or “that was the moment that turned things around”. It is too soon to claim that we are past the hump or even ready to mount a challenge on any front, but if the lads needed a big old helping of pick me up, this could well have been it.
All in all this was not the bad performance that the media is already presenting it as. We defended well apart from one or two “moments” that happen to most teams in the course of 90 minutes of football. Koscielny put in a standout shift and was my man of the match whilst Mertesacker again looked like he will just continue to improve until he explodes! We controlled the midfield for the most part with Arteta looking lively and available and Rosicky looking fitter with each passing game and continuing to show why Wenger didn’t choose to let him go when so many said that he should. Van Persie was excellent again, causing numerous problems for the Marseille centre back partnership of Diawara and N’Koulou although the service he received, or didn’t in truth, left much to be desired. Most importantly of all, we kept going until the very last minute, literally, and got the reward that deserved.
After the match Arsene Wenger had this to say on the subject of our late, late show:
“We left it very late but we had a difficult start. We lost some balls in the first half due to the fact Marseille pressed us well.
They didn’t find their fluency but in the second half we took over and I don’t think Marseille were dangerous at all [after half-time]. Marseille defended very well but you could see in the last 15 minutes we created some chances and were rewarded because we kept going and got an important victory.
I felt like we needed to be patient and intelligent. You could see our midfield had experience – we didn’t make stupid mistakes and we didn’t play stupid balls. It’s an important win but you take any win away from home in the Champions League.
We lost two points in Dortmund in the last seconds of the game. We lost a Champions League Final in the last part of the game with 10 men. We are not always lucky but when you face good opposition you need to take your chances.”
He is, of course, absolutely right on all counts, but I think there is also another important point worth making here – When Manchester United win ugly in the last minute of extra time it is due to their dogged determination and how that is the stuff of champions.
Let’s hope that this provides exactly the boost that was needed to go out against Stoke on Sunday and show them a performance of champions too!
And on that note I bid you farewell!
Come on you top of Champions League Group F Goooonnnnneeerrrrssss!