by ‘Ifreke Inyang
If you will, forget the last Manchester derby. Yes, the same one that Balotelli put the current champions to the sword and still had the audacity ask – via an unveiled shirt – “Why always me?”. Sunday’s North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur has been the best intra-city game so far in the Premiership.
The build-up to the game was massive. Spurs sat elegantly in third place, ten points ahead of their fierce rivals and basking in the encomiums of pundits who hailed them as the best team in London. The Gunners, on the other hand, were out of all sorts. Beaten silly in Milan and dumped out unceremoniously by Sunderland in the FA Cup, the mood at the Emirates was nothing but gloomy. The smart money was on Spurs to win the game and cement their growing reputation as the new dominant force in North London.
After 17 minutes of the games, they were well on the way. In the 4th minute, Adebayor who was playing on the opposite side for the first time in the derby, sent Saha scampering away. His effort went looped over Wojciech Sczcensy after it hit Vermaelen. Adebayor, whose every touch was booed then converted a penalty to double their advantage.
Arsene Wenger is well known for his usual cliches in a post-match press conference. He would go on and on about mental strength, spirit, belief and desire. These are exactly the qualities that his Arsenal side lack in a lot of games. This game was an exception. Arsenal went into half time level after Bacary Sagna’s bullet header and Robin Van Persie’s exquisite left foot finish. “It’s a wand – that left foot of his,” Former Manchester United defender, Gary Neville remarked.
In the second half, it was all Arsenal. Within five minutes, Tomas Rosicky, who was in sparkling form on the day, played a smart one-two with Sagna and ran beyond Ledley King to poke the third goal past Brad Friedel. Then in three extraordinary minutes, Theo Walcott, who was largely anonymous in the first half and target abuse from the crowd, grabbed a brace that essentially settled the game.
It is after games like this you struggle to define Arsenal. And no, I’m not talking about their fluid passing game and movement. In some games this season, they have looked clueless and sometimes uninterested. At other times, they have reminded of those Arsenal teams that had Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires in their prime – full of swagger and unplayable. And that is what Wenger has to deal with as the games thin out. There is a lot of talk about him rebuilding the team this summer. But it is very important he finishes the season in fourth, picking up the last Champions League ticket to attract names like Eden Hazard, Mario Goetze, Lucas Podolski, etc that have been mooted as possible targets.
If they keep blowing hot and cold at will, they might sink into the obscurity of second-tier European football, while their neighbours compete with and attract the very best. And then, their amazing victory at the Emirates may have just been for bragging rights.