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MATCH REPORT

Gunners shoot down rivals

Arsenal performed a stunning comeback from 2-0 to ensure they remained firmly in the hunt for the Champions League places after Louis Saha and Emmanuel Adebayor struck earlier for Tottenham Hotspur.

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Arsenal 5

(Sagna – 40, Van Persie – 43, Rosicky – 51, Walcott – 65, 68)

Tottenham Hotspur 2

(Saha – 4, Adebayor – 34 (pen))

(Parker s/o 87)

Arsenal performed a stunning comeback from 2-0 to ensure they remained firmly in the hunt for the Champions League places after Louis Saha and Emmanuel Adebayor struck earlier for Tottenham Hotspur.

However, A Bacary Sagna header and Robin Van Persie effort three minutes apart on the stroke of half-time, coupled with a Tomas Rosicky striker and a Theo Walcott all but compounded a miserable after for Spurs, made all the worse after Scott Parker’s red card late on meaning the England man will miss the game against Manchester United next weekend.

Harry Redknapp’s side went into the fixture as favourites for the first time since the inception of the Premier League and the veteran tactician opted to make just once change from the side that trounced Newcastle United 5-0 at White Hart Lane just two weeks prior to the encounter, Younes Kaboul coming in for Michael Dawson.

And it was Spurs who made the dream start in an engrossing North London derby after Adebayor slotted Saha through with the Frenchman running towards the Arsenal goal. The striker shifted onto his left foot and his low drive deflected off Thomas Vermaelen and looped over Wojciech Szczesny and into the back of the net to make it 1-0 to Spurs.

Spurs pressed to double their advantage early on with Adebayor and Niko Kranjcar both heading off target, while at the other end, Brad Friedel was in flying form to tip Rosicky’s glancing header over the bar with the Gunners looking to level matters on the day.

However, despite Arsenal’s best efforts, it was Spurs who added a second just after the half-hour mark. Luka Modric released Gareth Bale who squeezed between Kieran Gibbs and Vermaelen before being bought down by a combination of the young left-back and Szczesny.

Mike Dean didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot and, after much delay; Adebayor stepped up to calmly slot past the Polish international to make it 2-0 in the 150th North London derby.

Bale came close to making it 3-0, but Szczesny did well to deny the Welshman before Arsenal pulled one back five minutes before the close of the first-half. Van Persie struck the post before the ball worked its way to Mikel Arteta. The former Everton man clipped back in the box and Sagna was on hand to divert a powerful header past Friedel.

And matters were level on the 43rd minute after Van Persie capitalised on a poor Benoit Assou-Ekotto clearance. The Dutchman worked the ball onto his powerful left foot before smashing past Friedel from 22 yards.

Redknapp made two changes at the interval, throwing Sandro and Rafael Van der Vaart into the mix at the expense of Kranjcar and goalscorer Saha with and switched back to a 4-5-1 with the view to solidifying the midfield and hitting the Gunners on the break.

However, it didn’t take long for Arsene Wenger’s side to take the lead for the first time in the heated affair after Rosicky found himself un-marked in the box to turn home Sagna’s drilled cross to make it 3-2.

Theo Walcott fired wide before hitting the target just moments later, the England man latching onto a Van Persie through ball before delicately lofting over the ensuing Friedel to double their advantage.

And it was 5-2 just three minutes later after Alex Song released the rampaging Walcott before the winger drilled passed the American into the far corner.

Spurs pressed to work their way back into the game, but, bar a deflected Sandro effort that was held comfortably by Szczesny, never looked like breaking the Arsenal back-four again.

To make matters worse, Parker was then sent off in the dying embers of the encounter after receiving his second booking following a rash challenge on Vermaelen to compel Spurs to their fifth defeat of the season.

What Redknapp had to say

“Even at 2-0 I couldn’t say I felt over-comfortable,” the manager told Sky Sports.

“I wanted to get to half-time (at 2-0) but I felt they were creating chances and we looked a bit open really. It was a difficult one. I felt at half-time I needed to try to thicken us up a little bit.

“That should have happened, but didn’t. We didn’t defend well. It was basic, really.

“We don’t get beaten like that too often. It is a difficult one to put your finger on really.

“Whether the occasion got to one or two of them (I don’t know), but we never really got hold of the ball.”

Man of the match

A game to forget for a majority of the player’s, but credit goes to Brad Friedel. Again. Yes, he may have conceded five, but it could’ve been a whole lot more if the American wasn’t on fine form to deny Tomas Rosicky in the first-half and a well placed Yossi Benayoun effort in the second they looked destined for the far corner.

Moment of the match

The penalty on Gareth Bale should have seen a red for either Kieran Gibbs or Wojciech Szczesny after Luka Modric threaded the Wales international clean through. Mike Dean blew up for a spot-kick, but opted against carding either of the two player’s, despite a clear goalscoring opportunity being denied.

Final thoughts

Well, I think it’s fair to say the any slim hopes of a title push have all but diminished after the weekend. The race is now back on for a top four finish and, despite being seven points clear of Arsenal and Chelsea, the gap could disappear quickly. The next three games are pivotal to the success of the season with Manchester United (H), Stevenage in the FA Cup (H) and Everton (A) all coming up over the next two weeks. A positive performance against the Red Devils is now more important than it was before the weekend’s fixtures and the player’s need to focus all their energy on the looming encounter.

Ben McAleer

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