The much anticipated fixture between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal was undoubtedly the main event of tonight’s Carling Cup games. Two years ago, the Spurs enjoyed a terrific result against their arch-rivals, but they surely knew the past could not be dwelt on for tonight’s match.
Despite the never-absent electrifying atmosphere, both managers decided to save the energy of some of their more important players for the Champions League clashes next week and fielded well balanced teams of youth and experience.
Arsene Wenger had to serve a one-match ban after his improper behaviour towards the fourth official in the game with Sunderland. This seemed to be a small obstacle since modern technology provided him a way to communicate with his assistant Pat Rice.
Parallel to the battle of the minds, on the field, the fact that this was a Carling Cup clash did little to alleviate the pressure between the players.
Arsenal stung first when youngster Henri Lansbury took advantage of a frozen Tottenham defence to open his tally at the club. The provider of the assist, Jack Wilshere, then found himself on the receiving end of some committed sliding tackles, but he impressively remained unshaken by them.
The rest of the first half proceeded in a subtle battle of tactics. Arsenal had the possession of the ball for most of the time, but met a sturdy well-organized resistance from Tottenham.
After the break, Harry Redknap decided it’s time to use his benched lethal weapon—Robby Keane. And it paid off. With the clock showing 49, Keane took full advantage of a splendid through ball by Kyle Naughton, and put his team on equal terms.
With strengths pretty evenly distributed, Wenger decided to counter-act. It took him approximately ten minutes to get his wishes through to Pat Rice though and in the 72th minute Maroune Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin replaced Tomas Rosicky and Carlos Vela, respectively.
Rosicky did well to start the build-up for the sole goal, but in the second half his passes struggled to find their targets. Carlos Vela also had a quite game in the face of some recent outstanding performances.
The two new men’s impact was almost immediately felt as an attack from the left, starting from Arshavin, caused havoc in the Tottenham penalty box.
However, the winner could not be decided in regular time and the game was forced into extra-time.
Tiredness had sunk in by the time the first period started.
And it started with an explosion. Only 30 seconds after the whistle, Samir Nasri was about to get away when Sebastien Bassong brought him down in the penalty box.
Memories from the missed penalty against Sunderland flooded the minds of the Arsenal fans, but Nasri responded with a resounding: I’m the one who has to take penalties. Coolly, he sent the keeper in the other direction and put Arsenal one up.
Four minutes later, Tottenham might have thought they were witnessing a deja-vu. This time Chamakh was released by Andrei Arshavin only to be held back by Steven Caulker.
Referee Lee Probert did not hesitate to give Arsenal another penalty. Dispersing further doubts why he has to be the one to take penalties, Samir Nasri executed perfectly to put his team two goals up.
Having perceived where things are going, Harry Redknap tried to enforce his team replacing Sandro with Niko Kranjcar, but it all came too little, too late.
A quickly executed free-kick sent Arshavin advancing towards the corner of the penalty box from the left. With a well-placed low shot, he made the result bubble up to 4-1.
Harry Redknap now looked grim on his seat; the Tottenham fans started leaving the stadium; and the players clad in white looked to have accepted their fate; and Arsenal were playing out the rest of the game.
However, the Spurs had a couple of more chances to come out of it with dignity intact.
First, David Bentley frantically missed after a header from two meters, and then Roman Pavlyuchenko saw his shot denied by Samir Nasri on the goal line.
It didn’t work and it finished 4-1 to Arsenal. A result that came as sweet revenge for that game two years ago and important boost for their confidence before Saturday’s game against West Bromwich Albion.