Oog is on holiday so thanks to the Bagel for stepping up to the plate again. Hopefully there will be another guest contributor for the West Brom game
There are two things that make football great – high drama and top gameplay. Last night’s North London Derby had them both.
It’s easy to spout superlatives amplified by the headlines in this morning’s papers but I don’t remember seeing such a well contested and evenly matched 90 minutes in a very long time. I might even stretch to “ever”.
It’s a shame that the big ink crowning the column inches seem mainly to have focused on arsenal screwing it up again. That may have been true when our neighbours contrived to gift us a win in their back yard with a serious of ridiculous handballs earlier in the season but it really wasn’t at hot and humid White Hart Lane yesterday evening. The scoreline was dead on and, realistically, those goals could have come in any order and at any time. It just so happened that the way they did flattered our side the better. But merely flattery it was.
While the Wenger Boys’ dropped points might leave them further out of touch from their season’s ambition by a quick glance at the table today, the result was nearly as dream-shattering for the Yid Army – all of whom there in the ground made sure that we voiced just what we thought of the club’s Jumbotron request to cut out the greyer area of racism. This was an “easy” game for us. Sure, the point lifts us to a position behind City where if we win our remaining six fixtures, we will finish in the Champions League positions, but, when those fixtures include trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge, one has to wonder whether the Manchester Blues will let us get away with a pair of no-pointers of their own.
Perhaps the biggest shame of last night was our attitude – and I’m talking about the players and the fans, if indeed the moods of the two are as inseparable as the pragmatist might have us believe. We let ourselves down three times. The first time was forgiveable. The atmosphere was intense even before the kick off. “Come on you Spurs!” rang out across the stadium as loud as any battle cry ever heard within our four stands and not even Huddlestone’s grave error nor Walcott’s piercing reply could dampen the mood.
“Come on you Spurs!” yet again; crowd on their feet; fans as one – it was almost so easy when Van der Vaart bagged the equaliser moments later. He’d say it was the crowd that carried him through but with all the best will, the most heart, most noise in the world – if there’s one thing we’ve learned playing with the big boys this season, it’s that sometimes that’s just not quite enough. Neither Milan nor Real Madrid gave in to our charms and few could confess that there wasn’t a small voice in their soul that wondered if we could break through Arsenal just as easily as we seemed to any side at the end of last season and the beginning of this one.
With that first netting came the belief. We could do this again and again. It wasn’t going to be a problem tonight. The question was how many times they would do it back to us? But it wasn’t here where we let ourselves down.
Our first fall came after the second goal. Whether it was the manner in which it was scored, our breathless support, the heat of the night, it was hard to tell, but we dropped our guard just enough as a crowd for our visitors to gather their courage. But this is to be understood. It’s the way of the game. Ebb and flow. Periods of domination. If we could keep that tempo going every 90 minutes of every game, we’d win the Premier League year after year – but then so would any club whose fans could manage it too.
L’arse found their feet and for once Gallas – or Willy as he is fast becoming known – for once his mind seemed to outstrip his ability when he decided to keep the ball from going out for a corner and instead gifted an easy crossing chance to the Shit Aaron Lennon for Van Persie to tuck home at the second time of asking. At 3-1 the fight was by no means out of us but it took that sweetest of trademarks that is the Huddlestone daisy cutter to get the crowd up to 11 once again.
Thinking about it now, his goals have been sorely missed. No. He has been sorely missed. Until that moment in the game, O Tommy Tommy had been the weak link and probably the only player on the pitch who wasn’t on his game. It’s not surprising that such a fine tuned, talent as his, chipping passes with no margin for error, takes a few games to calibrate itself after a serious operation but it’s been well worth waiting for. Not only does he match a long range Yin to Modric’s short pass Yang but those thunderbolts are like shock troops. Such emphatic strikes charge the fans far more than a simple tap in and to the defenders and their tribe, they’re stakes through the heart. We are the Carthaginians, Redknapp is Hannibal and Huddlestone is his war elephant.
If ever you need a goal to mark a comeback, it’s one like that. At side on, I had no idea how neatly it curled into the corner or how aware VDV had to be to jump out of the way but the sight that will never leave my mind’s eye is that of Szezesney, feet rooted to the spot, head twisting to watch the ball hit home.
There are a few performances that stood out on the night – out ahead of all 22 men who appeared to play at the top of their game. The aforementioned Willy, mistake aside, was superb. Whether it’s knowing his old team mates, the familiarity with that countering style of play or just the presence of mind as a fantastic centre half, I don’t know but he reads the game in a way that I’ve not seen in a Lilywhite shirt before. While Ledley always had the tackling ability and the pace to stop anyone or anything, Gallas has the brain to see it all happening before it actually does. A fantastic cover tackle on Walcott(?) to save an almost certain goal when he already had a man of his own to mark springs to mind.
Bale didn’t have his best ever night but then Sagna might be my pick for best right back in the league. While the Frenchman loses by a nose on pace, he’s just that tiny bit tougher in the air, and our man doesn’t seem to relish those heavier moments when those two duel. If I had to call it, I’d say that Sagna is the full back that plays Bale best.
The other point of personal combat was more gratifying for the Spurs fan. At the core of the teams sat the two most skillful players on the pitch – two of the most gifted in the world. If they weren’t all about attack, they might have cancelled each other out but instead Fabregas and Modric between them set the tempo for every attack on the field. The most glorious moment of all though was when the two came head to head near the touchline in a series scuffles to gain control of the ball and it was our man who won the battle and in everyone else’s minds, the war.
The final mention before the actual final mention – the bit I´ve been trying to get round to – is for Younes Kaboul. I was beginning to think that I was the only person who saw him perform so well at right back for our run in last season. While he might not be quite as canny as Charlie, I still feel that he’s our best player in that position. He’s quick, fantastic in attack, no fool in defence and superb in the air. Sure, he’d rather be a centre half but if you can perform like that against Arsenal, then where’s the problem?
Last of all, man of the match has to be VDV, funnily enough. Yes, he scored two goals, yes he nearly got himself into a heap of trouble, yes, he dives, yes, he is a gamesman and even, yes, he has been something of a frustration of late but, last night he put us all to shame. There was a horrible feeling that came over every single person, to a man, inside that stadium. The most horrible part of all is that no one even realised it. Maybe not everyone admitted it to themselves but, with 10 minutes left to play, the thought lurking in the corner of every single mind was, “We’ll take a draw”. Every single mind but one. Rafael Van der Vaart.
Since that whistle was blown, it’s been a world of “what a fight”, “great character”, “amazing comeback”, “the title’s not out of reach” and, frankly, it’s all loser talk. All VDV said was “we could have won”.
He’s not interested in the spectacle, the fairness of the game, whether or not we deserved to win or if he’d had to cheat to do it. It doesn’t matter that arsenal had chances. It’s of no consequence. We had chances and we didn’t take them. It might not have been right but we could have won, and no one will remember or care how good the game was when the season’s out and we’re not in the Champions League. I don’t know how long we’ll have Van der Vaart and I don’t know how long we’ll want to but we need more players like him; not players that don’t know when they’re beaten but those that never entertain the idea in the first place.