1 - 0 Nasri 9'
2 - 0 Chamakh 27'
2 - 1 Bale 50'
2 - 2 van der Vaart pk 67'
2 - 3 Kaboul 86'
[Suggested music listening for this match report: Beethoven's String Quartet in C# minor, op. 131, first movement, the Adagio that sounds like the opening to a film about slow-motion train crashes in the 19th century].
Arsenal lost today after a second-half collapse saw them ship three unanswered goals against Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates. It was the first league victory in seventeen years for Spurs at Arsenal's stadium, Orbinho points out that it was the first time since 1992 that Arsenal had lost at home after scoring the first two goals, and Arsenal have lost two of their four 2-0 starts in the Premier League in the last 18 matches. Chelsea's loss at Birmingham, coupled with Manchester United's victory over Wigan, means that Arsenal are two points behind those two teams at the top.
It is difficult to understand how Arsenal lost today, especially given their performance in the first half. Things got started early for the Gunners with Samir Nasri clambering onto a through ball over the top from Cesc Fabregas. His first touch was heavy, but Heurelho Gomes was slow to react, allowing Nasri to poke his second touch past the keeper towards the byline. His third touch spun the ball around the post from almost on the line and in. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
The Gunners stayed in the ascendancy for most of the half after that. Fabregas screwed a shot wide from a promising position (the theme of failing in front of goal would return again later), Spurs had one good chance that Bacary Sagna managed to head over the bar before Roman Pavlyuchenko could get to it, and then Arsenal found a second.
Fabregas fed Andrei Arshavin, and the Russian found space to power in a low cross from the left. Marouane Chamakh stumbled in front of goal but managed to direct the cross into the net. 2-0 after 27 minutes, and Arsenal were cruising.
Spurs managed to mount a good spell of pressure around the 40th minute, winning a succession of corners, but Lukasz Fabianski and his defense were equal to all of them. Chamakh had a chance for Arsenal's third right before the half, but couldn't get the ball out from his feet to shoot.
Arsène Wenger talked about that incident and those in the second half where Chamakh was set free on goal but instead of shooting, came back. The manager suggested that Chamakh was fatigued from international play, and indeed, in the second half, fatigue and lack of drive would start to undermine Arsenal's efforts.
After halftime, Harry Redknapp brought on Jermain Defoe for Aaron Lennon, who had struggled to find much play on the right. Almost immediately, the English international striker would make his presence felt. Benoit Assou-Ekotto looped a long ball towards 5'7" Defoe after nobody pressed him following a corner (the center backs were sprinting back like mad, but were always out of position), and the striker beat Laurent Koscielny to the header, looping it forward. Rafael van der Vaart latched onto it and put Gareth Bale, who had outpaced Denilson and Bacary Sagna, through on goal, and he made no mistake, slotting it past Fabianski. 2-1, and suddenly Arsenal looked vulnerable. Spurs smelt blood.
Both sides created chances, Luka Modric blasting over after a mazy run and Marouane Chamakh being tackled by the excellent (it must be said) William Gallas after looking to have left him behind. In the 67th minute, though, it all went horribly wrong.
Firstly, Alex Song was whistled for a really doubtful foul on Modric. Modric had pushed the ball along the edge of the area, and Song looked to have stepped in front of him fairly before taking the ball away. Phil Dowd disagreed, and blew for the free kick. van der Vaart stepped up and tried to curl it over the wall. Fabregas raised his arm, perhaps in reflex to protect his face, perhaps not, and the ball deflected off his tricep. Dowd did not hesitate to give the spot kick. Fabregas protested, but it was a mindless, insane handball to concede at a really really really bad time. van der Vaart scored from the spot with ease. 2-2, Spurs having all kinds of belief, Arsenal on the brink of teetering over.
Yet Arsenal still came forward, and still had chances. Fabregas and Sebastien Squillaci were both adjudged offside as the Frenchman blasted a shot home, and Wenger brought on Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott for his two starting wingers. Fabregas sent a lovely curled shot towards the right post, but Gomes pushed it wide with a great effort.
The worst miss was Arsenal's last best chance, their impetus almost totally gone. Laurent Koscielny was unmarked at the far post, but could only steer a header over the bar instead of into the gaping net.
With four minutes of regular time left, Spurs won a free kick on the right. van der Vaart sent his delivery in towards the penalty spot, Younes Kaboul beat everyone to the ball and headed home into the bottom corner from ten yards. Cue pandemonium in the visiting section, cue instant soul-crushing dread and horror for the rest of the Emirates. Even with five minutes of stoppage time, Arsenal simply could not mount anything like a decent chance, and the final whistle plunged the hearts of supporters everywhere into the abyss.
Arsenal's title challenge took a blow, but it is far too early to dismiss them outright. Chelsea and Manchester United sit tantalizingly close, still. What is most frustrating, of course, is losing a two-goal lead at home for reasons that remain unclear have prevented the Gunners from being all alone in first today, which would have done wonders for the team's confidence. Instead, one of the worst all-around team efforts for 45 minutes has seen their confidence battered, shattered, clattered, and crushed.
On the balance, Arsenal outplayed Spurs today. Tottenham had more chances from free kicks and corners, but Arsenal dominated possession, chances from open play, and the general flow. Profligacy in attack has been an emerging theme this year, and Chamakh's missed opportunities, Fabrega's effort that went wide in the first half, and Koscielny's complete fail on his header did as much to damage the match today.
Even the back four, and particularly the center halves, looked solid today. None of the goals except possibly the third was their fault. Arsenal, as a whole, all eleven of them, just looked...tired. Or sick. Or sad. There's no point in trying to judge mental states by on-pitch play, but the team looked slower in the second half, anyhow.
The second half was simply odd. Nobody looked to have any energy left, and although there were chances, nobody looked fully up for the match. Arsenal's matches after international friendlies strike one as shambolic, and today was no exception. They will simply have to go to White Hart Lane and beat Spurs on their patch again to make it right; there's no other way.
[Ed. note: For what it's worth, I tried to keep this as neutral and optimistic as I could, but really, all I wanted to type was "whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy" until my computer ran out of battery].
[Ed. again: Seriously, I don't drink, but this game almost drove me to it again].