It had to happened someday. Arsenal has had a stranglehold on the bragging rights over North London for many many years in league fixtures. We lost the away record last season and contrived to lose the home record as well this season. We knew this day had to come. As much we would have liked to continue the record to the end of time, the law of average dictates otherwise. Yet, it is the manner in which we lose which is both perplexing and disgraceful.
You just don’t lose a derby game at home. Even more when we’ve completely outplayed them in 45 minutes of football and take a commanding 2-0 at half time. Not when a victory would sent us to the top of the table in a competition which the club sets out to win at the start of the season.
If the players can’t be bothered in a match which takes a very special place in the heart of their fans, then they are either in the wrong profession or do not deserve to wear the colours of the club. Complacency is a major issue here. It is unbelievable that these players believe allow such things to happen. Even at the lowest of levels, players are often reminded that football is a 90 minutes’ game. Nothing is for certain until the final whistle is up. If these players believe that they can stroll around the park after putting in a quite wonderful half of football and expect that a win is a surety, then they obviously do not understand the game of football.
As good as Arsenal were in the first half, they were shambolic in the second. But for 45 minutes, Arsenal gave not an inch to the Spuds. We yielded nothing and came away with everything. Being smacked in the face early in the game did not deterred Samir Nasri’s eye for the goal. He made the run inside of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and all it needed was a someone to pick him out. Cesc Fabregas duly delivered the inch perfect pass. Nasri’s first touch was heavy but Gomes was slow to come off his line. The shot was spilled and Nasri converted from an almost impossible angle. 1 up and the Grove was rocking.
The lead was extended in an Arsenal breakaway as Fabregas drove at the heart of Spuds’ defence. The ball was played out left to Andrey Arshavin and he produced a tantalising low cross which was poked in by Marouane Chamakh. Two goals to the good and seemingly coasting through the game. Alex Song was winning most of the tackles in midfield with Nasri and Arshavin providing good outlets at wide areas.
At this point, the crowd was jubilant and the team elated. You would think that Arsenal would close the game down in the second half and maybe score a third as the Spuds will gamble to get something out of the game by pushing more men forward. With Arsenal, there’s always a danger of that backfiring. True to form, that is exactly what happened.
I don’t know which team came out in the second half wearing red jerseys. They were absolutely unrecognisable from the first half. No one was pressuring the opposition and we allow them time and space on the ball as if we’re asking them to show us what they got. Spuds took the onus and showed us exactly that.
From a fairly innocuous counter attack straight from an Arsenal corner, Rafael Van der Vaart got hold of the ball deep in our territory. 3 Arsenal players surrounded him yet none were close enough on him or even tried to nick the ball of him. He had all the time in the world to play in Gareth Bale who was nowhere to be seen up to this point. The supposedly best player in whole ran on through to slot in past the despairing dive of Lukasz Fabianski. Why on Earth did the players just stood of VDV and no one took the responsibility to nudge him off the ball and take the foul. The same players commit needless fouls almost everywhere else but when the situation requires it, no one did it.
Still 2-1 up and there’s every chance that we can still hold out for the win. Then Spuds was fouled just outside of the Arsenal’s penalty box. From the ensuing freekick, the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Fabregas stupidly raised his hands to block the ball. His hands were well above his head and gave the referee no choice. He even raised Chamakh’s hands to make it almost like a double hand ball. It was a very stupid piece of defending from our captain. VDV converted the penalty and even though Fabianski had pretty much nothing to do up till that point, he was already picking up the ball from the net the second time for the day.
Worse was to come. Spuds nicked the third goal which turned out to be the match winner. Younnes Kaboul has won just about every header while defending. It’s baffling that we did not pick up on that. Yes, Peter Crouch was on the pitch and with his height, we needed to pay special attention to him. But to instruct Robin Van Persie to mark Kaboul was basically shooting ourselves in the foot. The Dutchman was never going to win any headers of Kaboul. Organization of defence and common sense was non-existent on this occasion.
It was not as if Arsenal did not have the chance to seal the game. Laurent Koscielny missed a free header at the back post from a RVP cross, heading it over the bar when it was easier to hit the target. Chamakh was put through twice but his selflessness put paid to our hopes of scoring the third. Instead of driving at goal, he hesitated and was always looking to pass to another pass when there was not a single defender in front of him.
When the opposition scored their first and even the equaliser, Arsenal were searching for someone to lead them on the pitch. Not even Fabregas provided that. He was strolling around in the second half and took far too many touches on the ball and far too long to make the pass. The same could be said of his team mates. Even when we were chasing the game, there was no one for the players to look to, to drive them on. The introduction of Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott had no impact.
To lose the 3 home games by November is very poor. To lose after leading so comprehensively against our main rival is utterly disgraceful. Optimism will have to come another as this has certainly been a black November. The players have a lot of work to do to redeem themselves after such a pathetic display. December can’t come soon enough.