Friday, 22 April 2011

Friday Football Feature - The best game from midweek that you may not have seen

Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal
English Premier League
Wednesday 20 April 2011

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Perhaps not the most hidden of the midweek encounters, this was truly a must-win game for both sides; Arsenal, on a run of draws and in danger of falling further behind leaders Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur, desperately hoping to pip Manchester City to fourth place and qualify for another season in the Champions League. Recent encounters between these two bitter rivals suggested that the game would be a high-scoring affair; add to this the fact that neither side exactly possesses a reputation for defensive solidity, and their immense attacking potential, and Wednesday’s night’s game looked set to be explosive from the start.

The visitors were first to break the deadlock, taking advantage of a heavy touch from Tom Huddlestone to win possession just inside their own half. After neat passing between Abou Diaby and Cesc Fàbregas, the Arsenal captain sidestepped past the challenge of William Gallas, playing in Theo Walcott. His superbly-timed run broke the Spurs offside trap, and the Gunners’ winger slotted calmly past Gomes to hand Arsenal the lead after just five minutes.

Shortly after Arsenal's opener Tottenham levelled proceedings, patient build-up involving Players’ Player of the Year Gareth Bale, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modrić playing in Vedran Ćorluka in space on the right. He was given too much time and space by the visiting midfield, chipping the ball to Rafael Van Der Vaart, who held off the challenge of Diaby to slam home the equaliser in the narrow gap left by Arsenal ‘keeper Wojciech Szczeşny.

Minutes later Arsenal reclaimed the lead, Samir Nasri and Fàbregas keeping possession on the left, before Nasri cut inside, playing a clever one-two before drilling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner, giving Gomes no chance. It looked as though Arsenal had made the game safe in the 40th minute when Bacary Sagna’s difficult cross from the right wasn’t properly dealt with by the Spurs defence. Walcott managed to prevent the ball going out, ballooning an awkward ball back towards Robin van Persie. His initial header was straight at Gomes, but the rebound fell perfectly for the Dutchman to slam the ball into the roof of the net in front of the downbeat home supporters, who could only watch on.

Spurs were given a route back into the match thanks to yet more shaky defending in the North London Derby. Full-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto launching the ball deep and high into the Arsenal box. Pavlyuchenko headed the ball back across the box, but Fabregas’ clearance was weak and fell to long-range shot specialist Huddlestone, whose stinging drive beat Szczeşny, who didn’t even move. Assou-Ekotto was also at the heart of Spurs’ third, the all-important final equaliser. His exquisite through ball played in Aaron Lennon, and his pace allowed him to reach the ball just before the onrushing Szczeşny; Lennon managed to poke the ball onwards, but the Arsenal goalkeeper had committed himself, hauling the Spurs winger down with twenty minutes to go. Having hit his previous five penalties down the left, missing two, Van Der Vaart this time chose right, confusing Szczeşny who dived according to the Dutchman’s spot-kick form, only to watch the ball nestle in his opposite corner, the game now deadlocked at 3-3.

That was how it remained; an enthralling, end-to-end game but ultimately a result which benefited neither side. Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Birmingham City saw them leapfrog the Gunners into second place, but with games Manchester United and Chelsea to come, Arsenal can still claw back the six-point gap to the leaders to hand Arsène Wenger his first trophy in six years. Tottenham, meanwhile, remain in fifth, but with Bale’s achievements having been recognised by his peers and Van Der Vaart’s incredible debut season in English football, a finish outside the coveted Champions League places could exact a huge blow on Harry Redknapp’s excellent squad-building exercise at White Hart Lane.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Daily Mail, Arsenal, Caught Offside, Arsenal Latest, Premier League, 888 Sport Zone

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