Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Spurs 2, Arsenal 1: Rose rises to the occasion and reliant Robin arrives too late

DANNY ROSE, thirty yards out, on his Premier League debut, just ten minutes in. A packed White Hart Lane, one of the fiercest derbies in football and the ball comes down out of the sky on to his left foot.

And what does the lad from Doncaster do? He rifles the ball into the net. A Roy of the Rovers scorcher. Incredible. The difference between the two arch-rivals as 90 fascinating minutes ended 2-1 to Spurs at White Hot Lane.

Was there anybody in the ground not wondering why Leeds United academy graduate Rose had been picked ahead of former Gunner David Bentley?

But for Spurs boss Harry Redknapp, this was the Rose among the thorns in the North London showdown which simply had to be won. And win it Spurs did, despite Arsenal’s dominance. Thank you, Danny Boy.

Sure, Arsenal were without their spine. No Cesc Fabregas, no Andrei Arshavin, no William Gallas and, crucially, no Alex Song to shore up the midfield. And then they lost Thomas Vermaelen after twenty minutes.

Unbeaten in this fixture this century, Arsenal dominate Premier League meetings between the two - in 35 games since the new system started in 1991, Arsenal have won 14, Spurs can now claim six, with 16 draws.

Sol Cambell, the man who left White Hart Lane on a free for Highbury a decade ago, got his traditional greeting – and his flying knee offered the first chance, which was saved off the line by Benloit Assou-Ekotto after four minutes. It was to be Arsenal’s only chance in 80 minutes of dominance. Nearly as incredible as Rose’s goal was the fact that Arsenal have managed to stay in contention for so long without a decent striker.

Roman Pavlyuchenko gave the Gooners a scare of their own nine minutes in. And then came the Broadway Danny Rose moment. Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia punched the ball out and the man signed from Leeds on July 25 2007 for a mere £1m produced the perfect volley. Spaniard Almunia, who has offered to switch allegiance to England, could only flap at the ball as it flew past him.

England Under 21 international Daniel Lee Rose failed to score on loan at Watford or Peterborough last year. This was the first strike of his career and he may never score a better goal – or a more important one - than he did last night.

At barely 5ft 8in, he’s no giant. But then neither is Lionel Messi. It’s all about shape, technique, composure. He showed it all with his first touch in the Premier League.

From that moment on, Arsenal dominated the game and the experienced Tottenham stars like Jermain Defoe, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Luka Modric failed to show. Peter Crouch? England’s most dangerous striker didn’t even make the starting line-up with the World Cup looming.

But Arsenal, for all their possession, never really looked like threatening Heurelho Gomes in the Spurs goal. An epic first half ended with Rose’s moment of magic separating the teams.

Redknapp promptly took Rose off at half-time, bringing on Bentley. But if Arsenal thought that might make things easier, they were soon proved wrong.

Gareth Bale, the in-form full-back pushed into midfield, scored his first goal in nearly three seasons when he found himself left alone on the far post by sub Mikhael Silvestre and Gael Cliche. Less than two minutes into the second half and Arsenal were 2-0 down.

Despite the impotence of Tomas Rosicky and Denilson, Arsenal continued to enjoy the bulk of the possession, but Nicklas Bendtner, allegedly a lone striker, opted to lie deep. Arsenal, as Gooners have been saying all season, offered nothing in front of goal.

With a fit-again Robin van Persie waiting to come on, Emmanuel Adebayor sold to Manchester City and Eduardo Da Silva unable to recover from his traumatic ankle injury, Arsene Wenger’s failure to sign Marouane Chamakh from Bordeaux in January continues to look like the biggest mistake of a distinguished career.

Wenger told an angry General Meeting at the Emirates: “Judge me by what we achieve this season.”

And for a sixth season in a row, the trophy cabinet at Arsenal will stay empty, like Wenger’s promises. Before this one, he admitted: “If we lose here, the title is over for us.”

He threw on winger Theo Walcott for full-back Bakary Sagna after just 53 minutes with Van Persie warming up on the sideline, eager for his first game in four months. How Chelsea and their fans must have been chortling at this point.

Arsenal’s best player? The 35-year-old free transfer from Notts County, Campbell. A rock at the back who deserves at least a vague phone call from England manager Fabio Capello before the World Cup kicks-off on June 11.

Their worst? Bendtner. Even more incompetent than the over-priced, mostly-injury Tomas Rosicky, a bounced Czech if ever I saw one. The Great Dane failed to understand his role. Expending useless energy on the chase. Never threatening to rouse Gomes from his slumbers in the Spurs goal.

Look, this wasn’t the Beautiful Game in all it’s glory... but it was a flowing, glowing North London derby. I’d like to say there were chances at either end, but with Arsenal forgetting to field a striker, that’s not true. But when Van Persie eventually came on, Gomes was forced to work like a Trojan.

For most of the 42 minutes after Tottenham’s second goal, Arsenal piled on the pressure. Abou Diaby huffed and puffed, Samir Nasri twinkled, Walcott made those searing runs down the right.

But as all true Gooners will attest, this Arsenal lacks shooters. Not a shot in sight. Spurs, on their rare forays forward, simply shot on sight. That’s how you score goals.

And still Van Persie warms up on the sidelines, still Chelsea chortle, still the cockerel-badged Spurs fans crow. Less than half-an-hour to play. Ledley King and Younes Kaboul at the back are having no trouble. You get the impression one of them might produce the giant Bendtner from a pocket after the match and sigh: “Ah, there you are Nicky boy.”

Van Persie’s arrival after 73 minutes heralded the first save of the game from Gomes seven minutes later. A neat turn and shot showed Arsenal fans what they’d been missing but the Brazilian goalkeeper was equal to it. He was even better three mintues later, keeping out a Van Persie free-kick.

Then he brilliantly denied a Campbell header and suddenly Spurs were hanging on.

But it had to come. Van Persie found Walcott, perfect ball across the face... and Bendtner nabbed his ninth goal in 11 games from a yard.

Game on. Five minutes left. Another rasping shot from Van Persie, another great save from Gomes. Arsenal denied an obvious corner. Crouch on for Pavlyuchenko. Three to go.

But it wouldn’t come. Victory for Spurs and a chance of that elusive first Champions League appearance for finishing fourth. Gomes eventually won the Man of the Match award for those four stunning saves after 80 minutes of inactivity. Captain Ledly King said: "He's one of the best in the world at the moment. He's saved us so many times. We feel we can beat anyone at home - even Chelsea next week."

Gomes himself said: "It's a great win but it's not the most important. Every game is important. It's not easy to concentrate with nothing to do. But I think we played some game. We have Chelsea coming up. We need to perform like that again."

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