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.