Arsenal (2) – (1) Tottenham Hotspur
Adebayor (47′), Bendtner (75′)
The Emirates Stadium, London
What a game.
For the first half, the game was sloppy and quite frankly forgettable – and even when Arsenal scored the opener the game started to fade.
After a dull first half, Arsenal started in the perfect manner – cranking up the tempo and flooding the Spurs half with fantastic running and energy as well as incisive passing. But after the first goal went in, Arsenal were guilty of putting their foot off the pedal which gave Tottenham a chance to get themselves back into the match.
Both teams stuggled to make any clear chances, and the ball was being passed around well but without any killer instinct or penetrating final balls.
But then the game sparked into life.
On 64 minutes a dribble from Lennon down the wing resulted in a cross to the back post, for Robbie Keane to smash his effort against the ball unchallenged.
Then less than 30 seconds later Berbatov smashed an effort from a tight angle right into the roof of the net. My initial reaction was that Almunia shouldn’t have been beaten from that position but replays showed that it took a less-than-kind deflection off Kolo Toure and the initial shot was actually off target – similar bad luck to the second goal conceded at Middlesbrough a few weeks ago.
So the game was 1-1 and either team looked like they could win it.
And with Spurs growing in confidence and Arsenal struggling to find their rhythm Kolo conceded a penalty in the 70th minute.
This was one of the worse 5 minute spells in a match you could have ever imagined.
And to compound the misery, replays showed Toure managed to clip the ball just before contact with Berbatov, who I thought fell a bit too easily.
For me it was not a penalty.
Although ironically they probably should of had one on 83 minutes when Sagna tackled Adel Taarabt in the box and failed to connect with the ball. So you could say things even themselves out.
Robbie Keane stepped up for his penalty kick, and Almunia ended up making a fantastic save!
In the context of the league, and the outcome of the result it was a truly vital save. In a tense North London Derby, Almunia kept his nerve and turned the biggest moment of the game in Arsenal’s favour. If he doesn’t save it Arsenal would be losing with 20 minutes remaining and it would take something special to get all 3 points – and keep top spot. Keane is a tricky player who likes to send keepers the wrong way so credit to Almunia for not diving too early and giving him a simple goal.
But with the huge boost of the penalty save, Almunia set things up for anyone to become a hero and that man was Nicklas Bendtner. Just 4 minutes after the penalty incident, Bendtner came on and scored the winner with his first touch! And it was a fantastic header.
What an inspired substitution by the gaffer!
After that Arsenal managed to focus and see out the result.
There’s no denying this was not vintage Arsenal, but the ability to dig deep and keep fighting for each other until the end is simply outstanding.
Things weren’t clicking and we struggled at times to make any openings but the resilience this season has made a huge difference. This was a game we could have easily lost or draw in previous years but not this season. We know Arsenal can (and have for most of this season) played wonderful football but a sign of Champions is the ability to win when you’re just not playing well. It’s great to know if Arsenal for any reason can’t perform to their high standards then the results don’t suffer.
You also need that big of luck throughout the season to win the league.
With Robbie Keane hitting the bar and having a penalty, will they ever have a better chance of beating Arsenal?
Because I can’t see Arsenal having as few chances as they had this weekend ever again, and Spurs having so many clear opportunities.
But the bottom line is Arsenal will be top of the league on Xmas day.
And you couldn’t ask for more really could you?
So I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all Arsenal fans and in particular all the readers of this blog a Merry Xmas and a wonderful New Year!