Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham
0 – 1 Keane (68)
1 – 1 Henry (84)
The result has considerable implications for both teams; for Tottenham, their fate is in their own hands and there is a real chance that they could now finish higher than their more illustrious neighbours; for Arsenal, the pressure is now on to win the Champions League, if that is the European Competition that they wish to participate in next season – probably a step too far – and there is now a real increase in the probability that Henry will not renew his contract with the club, although I personally feel that this decision was taken months ago with the announcement being left until the end of the season so as not to be disruptive to the Arsenal season. I would be completely amazed if Arsenal have not already lined up a replacement – can you replace the seemingly irreplaceable? – who is strongly rumoured to be Fernando Torres.
Let us make no mistake about yesterdays game; there is one reason why Arsenal failed to win – team selection. And for that one man must step forward, a gallic stride if you will Monsieur Wenger. A habit that he has got into over recent years is one that I disagree with but one that I understand the reasons for, namely the resting of key players before a big European tie. Whilst he may believe, and this season has proved him right so far, that he wants his players fresh, especially those such as Henry and Fabregas, for a testing upcoming match, he undermines his argument by naming them on the bench. There is as much likelihood of them suffering an injury in forty minutes of the second half as there is starting the match and being substituted. Surely it would have been better to have an hour of Henry, Fabregas and Eboue and try to establish a two goal lead than to try to nick a one goal win in the last half an hour? As it was, Arsenal were only in the game when he allowed his “key three” onto the pitch due to Lehmann’s performance and some woeful finishing from Tottenham. He conceded fourth place the minute he made five changes to the team that played Villarreal on Wednesday of last week. I can understand the absence of Hleb who looked knackered but Freddie would have suited yesterdays’ match. This result mirrors the team two seasons ago. A Cup Semi Final against Manchester United was sacrificed for a European game the following week. Let us hope that the result is better this time round when having secured an away draw at Stamford Bridge, the Champions League disappeared over the horizon in the second half in the return leg.
All of this is somewhat lost in today’s papers though. The spat between Arsene Wenger and Martin Jol – “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!” seems to be a quick summary of what was said- is using all of the column inches. To be blunt, the “reserves” were not up to the job. They played like a team who have not played a match together which is exactly what they were.
The match itself was not a bad game. It was certainly not a blood and thunder derby and the consolation that Arsenal can take is that the draw still leaves a somewhat slimmer chance for fourth place than existed on Saturday morning. Taino had three clear chances and the impressive Aaron Lennon one before Michael Carrick left the defence on its’ collective Arsenal but somehow failed to score in front of the North Bank. Keane’s goal that sparked the amazing outburst by Wenger, was one that you complain about conceding but quite happily take the brickbats for scoring. Two Arsenal players, Gilberto and Eboue, clashed and were injured near the halfway line leaving Carrick free to put it in a decent cross that took out Djourou and Lehmann leaving a simple tap-in for an in-form Keane. Wenger promptly had words with Jol, whilst Psycho Pires and Loopy Lehmann decided to take on Davids. The myopia that Jol suffered from is obviously a problem induced by Highbury as Wenger has seen nothing since arriving at the club! None of which cut any ice and resulted in an increased tempo from Arsenal looking for an equaliser. This duly arrived from the most predictable source, Henry slotting home from Adebayour’s knock down. In a frenetic final quarter, Davids managed to prove there is still fight in the old Bulldog yet by getting himself sent off for a petulant lunge after he had been denied what appeared to be a legitimate free-kick.
So where does this leave Arsenal. Well, as a start there are no fresh injuries for Villarreal on Tuesday. Henry has got himself all angry again, as he did before the first leg, and will be looking to exact punishment on the Costa del Azahar. For the League, trips to Sunderland and Manchester City coupled with the final match at Highbury, the visitors being Wigan, it is now a case of having to yield nine points. In the meantime, Tottenham entertain a Bolton side who have rediscovered their goal touch with yesterday thrashing of Charlton, 4 – 1 being flattering on The Valiants. Final match of the season for them is a visit to Upton Park which may still require a victory for the hosts to guarantee a UEFA Cup place, something that could turn into a battle royale between Blackburn, Newcastle and West Ham – Wigan are already there.
As for Wenger, the priority is now to qualify for the Champions League final, a task for which the team have put themselves into a decent position. Villarreal put out a similarly weakened sign yesterday and lost 0 – 2 to Real Sociedad, a result that effectively consigns them to the Intertoto Cup unless they win the Champions League. All of which lines up what will be the tensest ninety minutes of the campaign to date. And, of course, the biggest game of the season so far…
Todays Tunes come from The Chords, power modsters of 1979 – 1982’s Mod Revival, and one of the better bands of the genre. These come from a Live gig at The Rainbow: