What were the key historical moments in November 1999? The Australians voted to keep the Queen as their head of state, China launched its first spacecraft and Tottenham beat Arsenal in a Premier League match. Since that day at White Hart Lane, Arsenal had a 17-match unbeaten record in the league against their north London rivals. The record stood at 10 wins and seven draws before yesterday as Tottenham finally beat Arsenal in a league match for over a decade. Naturally any derby game always has something riding on it and Wednesday was no different. Tottenham needed the points as much as Arsenal did and they did brilliantly to overcome Arsenal and finally end their league drought over the Gunners.
Once again both clubs had different targets this season but last night provided an opportunity for one of them to stay in the hunt for what they are striving towards. At the same time, victory for Tottenham ended Arsenal’s dreams for another season- so there was double incentive. The fact that Tottenham won, thus leaving Arsenal six points behind leaders Chelsea, really signals their end for a title chase. A victory for Arsenal would have see them leapfrog Manchester United in to second place, keep them in the title race and make it almost impossible for Tottenham to catch Manchester City who occupy fourth spot. With all this in mind, Arsene Wenger must surely be waking up today and thinking “what if”? This fixture was originally meant to be played last weekend but due to Tottenham’s involvements in the FA Cup it was postponed until yesterday. It was always going to be interesting to see if they have got over an extra-time defeat on a horrible Wembley pitch, whilst Arsenal played for the first time in eight days since they were crushed 4-1 by Barcelona and Lionel Messi in particular- it didn’t show in either teams fantastic approach to the match.
So what did Tottenham do so well to beat Arsenal? History is history and whatever has happened in some memorable fixtures between the two sides since 1999 counted for nothing. This was viewed as a perfect opportunity for Harry Redknapp’s men as Arsenal had a number of key men missing. Robin van Persie’s class showed as, in all honesty, he could have had a hat-trick were it no for the heroics of man of the match Heurelho Gomes. Tottenham’s traditional method of playing attacking football was something that gave way for a more defensive and solid set-up, even with the options they had at the attacking end of the pitch. A lot was being made about Sol Campbell’s second return to The Lane with Arsenal but he was a colossus in typical Campbell fashion. However, neither he nor anybody could do anything about the wonder strike – which must be goal of the season – from Danny Rose on his first Premiership start and no doubt that will go down as one of the finest goals scored at White Hart Lane.
A lot depended on who came out on top in the midfield battle as well, where physicality, at times, ruled creativity. Tottenham’s battling midfielder Wilson Palacios was suspended so the battles that are associated with derby games became, along with the ugly side of the game, was something Spurs did admirably. On the other hand, Gareth Bale was at the very top of his game and the left-hand side looked like causing Arsenal all the problems- in the end Bale scored the second, and most decisive goal, from the right. Both teams were significantly weaker going in to the game and it was a question of who would adapt better. For years Arsenal have had the better squad but it could be argued that the Lilywhites had the stronger bench. Crucially for Tottenham they didn’t let the emotion of Sunday’s cup semi-final defeat get in their way and a focus and professionalism from the beginning was evidential.
Harry Redknapp was certainly a delighted man, and he said: “We showed the character we have got at the club and the players have been fantastic all year. To play like that after Wembley on Sunday was fantastic. It was a good all around performance, everybody worked hard- it was a great result for us.” Redknapp knows that the club’s fans, along with the neutrals, were looking to see what his team is really made of because a lot of noises have been made about how Tottenham are getting closer to Arsenal’s level. There was a danger that Spurs’ season could slip away from them if they had lost but there is more of a chance of them claiming Champions League qualification than there is of the Gunners winning the league. Tottenham’s next task, Chelsea at home on Saturday, is another huge fixture that will once again determine where the league title is going and if Spurs will still be in with a chance of claiming fourth spot after 90 minutes.
Before yesterday, as if the statistic about not beating your local rivals in almost 11 years in a league game was bad enough, than the past few years have also shown that the supposedly weaker of the two teams in other city rivalries can beat their neighbours. Witness Everton having beaten Liverpool in the Moyes-Benitez era and City have beaten United quite a few times in the last five years. Tottenham probably didn’t use that as inspiration but proving it in a derby match was a reflection of how far they have come, and not succumbing to Arsenal like they have in the past. With the correct attitude, pride in their performance and showing an ability to compete with Arsenal, it meant that Spurs were deserved victors. The club motto reads “to dare is to do” and Tottenham did do it.
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