A game, which wasn't quite a full-bloodied derby, but one which had
enough tough tackles and chances to make it a good one ended all square
in terms of the score at 0-0 if not in terms of personnel on the pitch
at the end.
continued protests at having a goal disallowed and a free-kick given
against Sagna for a flying cross-press on Luka Modric got him his first
yellow and then he was ridiculous enough to aim a kick at Modric after
the little Croatian had fouled him. That left the visitors with 53
minutes to fend without the makeshift wide midfielder.
The early exchanges in this meeting of
two sides needing points for different reasons were muted. Spurs
had a couple of free-kicks which got beyond the last Arsenal defender
and dropped invitingly, just yards out with nobody there to convert
them. With Palacios doing lots of the hard labour in the middle of
midfield, Luka Modric was freed to use his skill in causing problems for
Arsenal and that was what he did well in the first half and the early
part of the second half, before tiring.
The returning Robbie Keane caused a
ripple of nervousness in the Gooners penalty area, when he nipped in
ahead of William Gallas and the Arsenal defender took the new Spurs
captain down as he played the ball, but any appeals for a penalty were
waved away. After just three minutes, it was highly unlikely that
a spot-kick would have been awarded.
Eboue had a shooting chance in the sixth
minute, but Dawson made a challenge that pushed him wide and he pushed
his shot across goal, but then Keane played in Lennon, who got to it
ahead of Clichy. The winger struck his shot on target, but Almunia
was equal to it and then in the eighth minute, Palacios brought a diving
save from Almunia, but the shot was not going in. Arsenal felt
hard done by and Wenger none harder, as he raged when Eboue's 'goal' was
ruled out in the 14th minute. He had got in down the left side of
the penalty area and as Woodgate and Cudicini combined to deny him, the
ball ran loose and he knocked it into the net. What he did not
realise was that the whistle had blown for him pushing Woodgate out of
the way to get the ball. The 'scorer' took the opportunity to let
Mike Dean know what he thought of the decision.
When Spurs returned the ball to the other
end, a clearance fell out to Benoit Assou-Ekotto and he helped the ball
back into the box with a hook forward. Luckily, it fell to Roman
Pavlyuchenko just inside of the penalty box and he hit it first time
with great power, but little accuracy and it flew five yards over.
The next attack came with a high ball down the right on the halfway
line. As Modric jumped for the header, Sagna flew in and hit him
hard with no hope of getting the ball. It was one example of how
Arsenal were trying to intimidate Spurs and the three time verbal
lashing given to the referee proved too much for his tolerance, seeing
Eboue issued with a yellow card, but the perpetrator Sagna allowed to
get off scot free.
Just as they had last week, Tottenham
accrued a number of corners and failed to make any decent chances from
them. The best chance of the half for Tottenham came when a ball
by Modric saw Lennon second best to reach it, but he got ahead of Clichy
and breaking into the right side of the area, he rushed his shot and
scuffed it across Almunia and wide of the mark. A Modric shot,
taken early, on the half hour produced a save from the Arsenal keeper to
push it wide away from danger, then Corluka got caught trying to let the
ball run out of play, but EBoue and Nasri contrived to put a ball into
the six yard box, but only to Assou-Ekotto, who cleared the ball
up-field. When it came back, Woodgate was running for it, with
Adebayour alongside him and the Togolese striker suddenly hit the floor
in comic style. Holding his thigh, it was clear that his hamstring
had gone and he had to be stretchered off the pitch and around the
perimeter, getting little sympathy from the Tottenham crowd.
While his progress around half the pitch
was going on, it was all going off on the pitch. Eboue cleared the
ball and as play continued, Luka Modric hit the ground after the Arsenal
midfielder aimed a kick at him. Firstly, the ref showed the
Croatian a yellow card, presumably for the first tackle, then, after
awarding the free-kick to Arsenal, he pulled out another yellow and then
a red for Eboue. Quite why there was a need for a second yellow, I
am not sure, as Matthew Etherington got a straight red for less
yesterday. The usual Arsenal indignance that they can never do
anything wrong went on with Wenger leading the finger-pointing.
Perhaps he should start with looking in the mirror for picking such a
liability as Eboue in the first place.
Eboue made it down the tunnel before
Adebayour and with Bendtner waiting to replace the striker, eventually
made it on, with a different role to fulfil now. A couple of
minutes before half-time, Arsenal were fortunate not to be reduced even
further, as Aaron Lennon picked up the ball wide of the right of the
Arsenal half and made towards his own goal when Clichy scythed him down
with a tackle that had a great deal of intent and was somewhat worse
than what Eboue had effected. However, what Arsenal had failed to
realise was that Spurs now have their own tackling machine in Wilson
Palacios. Three times the Gooners tried to break out of their own
half, but each time, Palacios broke up their moves with tough tackles.
Sometimes, he appears to slide in with studs up and will obviously pick
up more than his fair share of bookings, but his industry was very
impressive today. Indeed, he also managed to get forward in injury
time and crack a shot from outside the area that dipped and forced
Almunia to push the ball over the bar.
The children in the crowd who had dressed
up for World Orphan Week were paraded at half time and there were only
five of them. Most other people were doing reasonable impressions
of eskimos despite the sun's rays being in the faces of the North and
East stands for most of the first half.
Pav had the first chance of the second
half, with a free-kick touched to him by Modric and shot at goal with a
rising effort that has typified our set-pieces this season. Five
minutes into the half, our Russian forward had a better opening, when
Toure messed up a clearance, leaving Roman through on the left side of
the penalty area, but the moment went to his head and he blasted high
wand wide, with players waiting for a pass across the six yard box to
finish it off. On the day, Tottenham's final ball and the choice
of whether to shoot or pass were lacking and it lead to the goal threat
not being as potent as it should have been.
Spurs moved the ball around well and
created space on the right wing, but failed to use Lennon enough in the
second period, as he could have had free rein to attack Clichy, who had
the yellow card already. With 52 minutes gone, Lennon got past
Clichy in the box and pulled the ball back to Corluka, who hit a tame
left foot shot at goal and Almunia had little trouble collecting it.
Then four minutes later, a better ball from Lennon saw a pacy cross
played into the six yard box and with Almunia nowhere, Keane rose
highest and glanced a header onto the roof of the net.
Bent came on for Pavlyuchenko and Arsenal
started to move the ball about better, making problems for the Tottenham
defence. van Persie was lurking when Bendtner chipped a ball into
the heart of the penalty area and it was Michael Dawson's acrobatic
clearance that prevented the in-form Dutchman from capitalising on the
chance. A rare corner for Arsenal produced a clear chance, which
Song wasted, blasting well wide when the ball fell kindly for him just a
couple of yards out from goal. Keane went closer with a turn and a
shot that looped a yard wide of Almunia's post from inside the box.
Five minutes remained when Darren Bent
went for a header in the Arsenal box and Clichy went with him. The
ball was going out for a corner, but was kept in and Arsenal broke away,
with a cross into the area from Denilson catching Michael Dawson's head,
almost wrong-footing Cudicini, who grabbed the ball at the second
attempt after fumbling the ball. Hid throw sent Tottenham on the
attack, but referee Dean blew his whistle so that Clichy could get
treatment for his head wound. It was inconsistent officiating,
with Arsenal allowed to attack (and nearly score), while we were then
penalised by the game being halted, with the visitors being caught
up-field and vulnerable.
Anyway, while Clichy hobbled off, Adel
Taarabt came on for Tottenham to replace Aaron Lennon, who had taken one
kick too many. It may have seemed a risky tactic with just minutes
left and the score 0-0, but the French Ronaldo seemed to have
appreciated the importance of the match and used the ball quite well.
None more so than when Cudicini rolled the ball out to him and he ran
forward, slipping a pass to his right, into the path of Modric, who took
a touch and then hit his shot that Almunia blocked with his body as he
closed him down.
The throw to him had come when Cudicini
caught and did very well to hold a cross from a corner at the far post,
having conceded the original corner with a touch over from Bendtner's
late 20 yard shot that looked as though it might dip in.
Taarabt had the last say when he found a
yard of space on the right of the penalty box and shot, but it was wide
of the goal and the final whistle followed shortly afterwards. It
was disappointing that we had not taken all three points against ten men
for such a long period of the game, but in hindsight a point before the
game would have sounded good.
While there were aspects of the game
which looked better - Palacios' strengthening of the midfield, Woodgate
and Dawson's partnership at the back and Lennon's first half mastery of
the Arsenal full back, some still need attention. The ball into
the box must be better and for the majority of the second half, Lennon
was left unused. There is still a long way to go and the result
preserves our record against the top teams this season, but now we need
to play with the same vigour and enterprise against the teams in the
lower reaches. That might move us away from them, rather than
having to rely on their results to help us out.