Arsenal 2 – 3 Tottenham Hotspur
1 – 0 Nasri (9)
2 – 0 Chamakh (27)
2 – 1 Bale (50)
2 – 2 van der Vaart (68 pen)
2 – 3 Kaboul (86)
A home defeat to Tottenham is never a pleaseant occurrence; one where an abject second half performance was inexplicably at odds with the impressive nature of the previous forty five minutes is sickening. It is one which has seen some sections of the support stoop so low with personal abuse that they have not scraped the bottom of the barrel, they ploughed through and continued unabated to the bowels of the earth.
Where the defeat cuts deepest into the soul that it was entirely avoidable. The strongest of foundations had been built for victory, dominating the first half to render the visitors entirely impotent. The second saw talented players capitulate through their own mistakes, architects of their own downfall leaving the manager furious and bewildered in equal measure.
The defeat rests ultimately on his shoulders for that is where the buck stops but each member of the squad must look at themselves this morning and ask if they have the mental strength to cross the rubicon, to breach the citadel walls of title winners, leaving the land of potential behind them.
Despite this, the team still remains two points from the summit. Chelsea’s defeat at Birmingham means that they rule the roost by that margin from Arsenal, goal difference from a distinctly ordinary Manchester United side. Arsenal cannot continue to rely on the largesse of their rivals; at some point they must stand up and make the victories achieved on their travels count for exactly that rather than making up for their home travails.
It was all so needless. Spurs had been swept aside in the opening half. Half chances had been traded before Fabregas lofted a pass over the top of the visitors’ defence; Samir Nasri chased it down but Gomes came to make the ball his and failed, hesitating instead of being brave to collect. The Frenchman nicked the ball past him and from the tightest of angles, dribbled the ball over the line with enough power to tantalise the chasing defence but sufficient to tease the pursuers into the net as well.
Pressure mounted on the Tottenham goal, most notably when Fabregas wriggled free and shot past the far post. The lead was doubled as Tottenham pressed on their left, Sagna cleared the cross to Fabregas who swept the ball wide to Arshavin, the Russian’s cross glanced into the net by Chamakh’s boot. Two-nil, complete control assumed. The Moroccan spurned two opportunities before the interval but nothing that had been seen gave any indication of the mania to follow.
Within five minutes, Tottenham had their foothold as Bale sprinted onto Defoe’s flick, beating Fabianski with a shot across the goalkeeper. Even so, fifteen minutes of stability would have taken some of the sting from the moment. It never happened.
Modric should have equalised before Song was deemed to have fouled him with half of the second period played. The freekick was curled at the wall by van der Vaart, Fabregas lifted his own and Chamakh’s arm to block the ball at above head height. A penalty was awarded; van der Vaart converted. This picture (thanks to Ole for the link) highlights the folly clearly. Had the ball struck either, play would have stopped if the power was deemed that sufficient. Absolute lunacy, the softest and most foolish of penalties to concede.
Arsenal came back to life from the crevice of despair. Fabregas was offside as he played the ball back to Squillaci, the defender still buried the chance. The Spaniard would also go close with a volley moments later before Gomes turned his effort away with fifteen minutes left. The most culpable of misses though fell once more to Laurent Koscielny. Having incomprehensibly headed over the bar in the opening minutes at Stamford Bridge, he missed a glorious chance to deflate the visitors, heading over from close range.
It was the first of two costly late interventions. With six minutes remaining, he felled Bale. The resultant free kick found Kaboul poorly marked, his flicked header gave Tottenham their first victory at The Emirates, only their second at Arsenal in the Premier League.
For Wenger, it is a tough week ahead. He is being criticised for the mental failings of the players in this match. There was enough experience on the pitch for those in red and white to have closed out the match. Indeed, having shown that calmness at Everton with a two-goal advantage sealed inside 48 minutes, the capitulation is staggering. They have this knowledge yet no-one stood sufficiently tall to bring the group to heel. That was a failing of all, not just the captain. Yet Fabregas should have done that but did not.
Hindsight is a wonderful gift but Wenger made an error in playing Koscielny. The defence did not need changing. Djourou had played well in the previous two games, his understanding with Squillaci had handled the Wolves and Everton frontlines well. Denilson for Wilshere was understandable, the Brazilian having played at Goodison Park impressively as a second half substitute.
It is however not a time for individual finger-pointing. The burden of the defeat rests squarely on the shoulders of all. Damaging as it was, fatal it was not. However the slovenliness of recent home form has to be removed. Winning at home is how title winning sides build their success. Defeats such as those already suffered have been costly in that a potential seven point lead at the top had they all been won, has not materialised.
Two tough away games ahead this week; the players have to respond meaningfully, winning both with good performances. Two victories in Braga and at Villa Park bring December into view, a month for driving forward. At this particular moment in time, that is by no means certain.