Of late, my relationship with the "beautiful game" has not exactly been great. I have made no secret of my feelings on the Premier League’s shortcomings, and I have really struggled to enjoy the competition due to the apparent failings of those who run the league, and those who play in it.
I became disillusioned with our national game, heck I even pledged a boycott. Things just didn’t sit right, so we separated. Divorce was on the cards.
However, everything changed on a cold night in North London.
On Wednesday night, Arsenal and Tottenham waged a battle at the Emirates Stadium which will go down in football folklore. It was a spectacular epic between two fierce rivals at opposite ends of the Premier League spectrum.
Going into the game, Arsenal were sitting pretty. Nestled in position near the top of the table, Arsene Wenger looked like the managerial genius we know him to be.
His squad of footballing gods were playing gorgeous football, and they were basically having a good old laugh at the expense of their neighbours from Seven Sisters.
Spurs on the other hand had started the season horribly. Having lost their best strikers, Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov, in the off-season they were rock bottom with only one win to their name.
They had sacked their manager, Spaniard Juande Ramos, the weekend before the game and signed Englishman Harry Redknapp. Lovable though he is, was he really the answer to the quagmire that Spurs had become?
A once proud, mighty giant of a team who were now the laughing stock of football.
As if the bitter long-standing rivalry and recent cultural differences of these teams didn’t provide enough pre-game spice, Arsenals Spanish phenom, Cesc Fabregas, threw a seasonal firework into the fray by stating that Spurs would have trouble getting any result if they were to play the Arsenal Ladies team. Ouch!
Although, at the time, it was hard to see who would be most offended by that statement, the worst team in the Premier League, or the greatest female side ever assembled.
What followed was 94 minutes of sheer, unadulterated, classic Premier League football. 60,000 plus fans packed into the modern cathedral that is the Emirates. As the players exited the tunnel, there was a feeling in the air that something very special could occur. A sense of occasion, excitement, and expectation hung in the air like the cold air clung to the Holloway sky.
David Bentley’s goal on 13 minutes gave the visitors the early lead they so craved, and boy, what a goal. The fact it was against his former employers must have been sweet enough, but given that it was a 40-yard strike of such audacity and beauty makes it a clear contender for Goal of the Season. 1-0 to Spurs.
But wait, seven minutes before the half time Bovril break, Mikael Silvestre headed home for Arsenal. Football history suggests that possibly the best time to score is just before half time; it breaks the opponents spirit. 1-1.
Out for the 2ndhalf and seconds into it, Arsenal take the advantage with a William Gallas effort to lead 2-1. The early lead Spurs had taken had now been fully reversed now and Arsenal were in full on destroy mode. They were ripping Spurs’ hearts out.
Emmanuel Adebayor added another to make it 3-1 Arsenal after 64 minutes. Spurs were sinking, Arsenal were flying.
Four minutes later, substitute Tottenham striker Darren Bent bought the deficit back to one. 3-2. New manager Redknapp will take full credit for such a genius tactical substitution no doubt, and quite rightly so.
Maybe, just maybe…Oh dear.
Robin van Persie nets for the Gunners whilst the travelling contingent were still celebrating. 4-2. Arsenal stepped up a gear and looked like champions. Spurs were surely finished. Their hearts had not only been ripped from them, but Arsenal were showing the pumping tickers to their slain victims.
Wenger started to make a few changes in the field to suggest his men were content with their haul, and locking out their enemies diminishing powers for the remaining 20 minutes of the contest.
However, the final few minutes will live forever in the memories of anyone who was still watching this nationally televised game, and all those present.
A neat Jermaine Jenas curler gave Spurs their third goal on 89 minutes. 4-3. A slight ray of hope, but surely not enough time left against such mighty opponents.
But, with the help of stoppage time and with practically the last kick of the game, Aaron Lennon slotted in a rebound. Cue mad scenes of celebrating Lilywhites, and gob smacked Gunners.
4-4. Final whistle.
What a truly great game. Played in high, but great, spirit by both teams. Arsenal will be fine. Yes, they let in four goals in their own back yard, but this was a derby. These things can happen.
Spurs too, I suspect, will be fine. Harry Redknapp knows how to reach his players. It’s no coincidence that all four Spurs goals were scored by four different Englishmen.
So, here I am, falling in love with the beautiful game again thanks to that wonderful battle. The sport still has its problems—they will always be there—but this match was a timely reminder to me that, ignoring the politics of the competition, the Premier League produces some of the best pure sport in the world.
Surely that’s what it’s all about. I forgot that once, but I’m humble enough to admit that. Thank you Arsenal, thank you Tottenham.
They say that if something should fly away but then it flies back to you again, then it’s yours.
True, so very true.