As part of the run-up to Sunday's North London Derby at White Hart Lane between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, Kevin McCauley, manager of Cartilage Free Captain, and I will recount our memories of some recent matches between the two bitter rivals. It was Kevin's idea to go back and forth torturing each other with the past, and we hope you enjoy this series.
This afternoon, we lead off with the 3-1 victory for Arsenal at White Hart Lane in September of 2007.
TH: At the start of the 2007 season, Spurs hadn't beaten Arsenal in the league for what seemed like decades. tell me about what your feelings were at this point in time going into a league match against the Gunners.
KM: In 2007, it was hard to be terribly optimistic about a match against a team that we hadn't beaten in the league since 1999. However, Spurs fans were confident in their side. We'd qualified for Europe two years in a row, and this was the year that many thought we would finally pass Arsenal for fourth place. We had the right players and the right manager. Arsenal's Invincibles were old and/or gone, while the youngsters weren't quite developed yet. We were, at worst, cautiously optimistic, despite our bad start to the 2007-08 campaign.
TH: At that point, was the support still strongly behind Martin Jol?
KM: Yes, absolutely. No one even came close to turning until after this match against Arsenal. He did extremely well to get us into the position we were in and we felt that, while we played poorly in the first two matches, they were a small blip on the radar.
TH: I remember still trying to adjust to the fact that Thierry Henry had left, and while I had faith that Cesc Fabregas and Gilberto Silva could lead the side to good things, I admit that I was a little afraid, watching with my rec league buddies at their apartment, when I saw Silva slot in alongside Kolo Toure at CB. 15 minutes in, an 18-year old left back named Gareth Bale stepped up to take a free kick.
Welsh Jesus was still kind of underground at this point, but he had a bit of a reputation for free kicks...what did you think as he stepped up, and how did you react when he buried it?
KM: Actually, before I knew that Spurs were interested in signing him, I watched the last month of the Championship season in 2006-07 and the subsequent playoffs, which Southampton qualified for. I'd already seen how much of an absolute monster Bale was on set pieces, so I was confident when he stepped up, but it's not like I could have predicted the result.
TH: How much did you freak out? Was there air-punching?
KM: Dude, my roommates almost killed me. I was a Freshman in college and I was living in a house with 6 people - 2 other guys and 3 girls - that I had just met in July and moved in with in August. I yelled at the top of my lungs at 7:45 am central time, after everyone else had been drinking heavily the night before. Two of the girls came out of their rooms to yell at me to shut up.
TH: I wonder if they regretted their roommate decision at that point.
KM: Haha, long story short, I had a thing with one of the girls who yelled at me after we moved out, so I lucked out in that regard. They didn't hate me.
TH: Ha! That's good. The rest of the first half was pretty quiet, although Spurs looked more threatening. Early in the second half, Dimitar Berbatov got past Almunia, but Toure was able to slide in at the last moment and dispossess him. It would be a key moment, and it seemed to wake up Arsenal. Chances were being created at both ends, and the in the 65th minute, Arsenal won a free kick. Fabregas floated it in from the left, and an unmarked Adebayor steered it home past Robinson. Do you recall if you felt that Spurs could still find goals and win, or was the old eight-year doom setting in again?
KM: You know, I shouldn't have been too discouraged at that point. Spurs had been arguably the better team until the equalizer, we were at home, and we had the talent to create more goals. However, I was very discouraged. Not because of our recent failings against Arsenal, but for two other reasons. One, because we were so bad in our first few games of the season. Two, because we had already had a bunch of bad results.
TH: Which makes way more sense than worrying about what happened five years before, of course.
KM: Yeah. As we'll discuss later this week, Spurs eventually broke their streak, and it wasn't because of luck or magic. Eventually, a team will win games if they're good. They'll lose if they're rubbish. In the first half of the 2007-08 season, we ended up being rubbish.
TH: At 1-1, chances kept coming at both ends. Robin van Persie had a shot saved by Robinson and Fabregas shot wide. At the other end, Berba had an effort cleared off the line by Gael Clichy and then headed the rebound over the bar. Do you remember what went through your mind when he did that?
KM: At that point, I think everything was just running together. I was a giant ball of nerves. My reaction to every Arsenal and Tottenham near miss was fairly similar.
TH: The match certainly didn't look like ending at 1-1, and indeed, with ten minutes left, Cesc Fabregas found a lot of space in between Spurs' lines after Rosicky fed him from the left. He had all day to set up a 25-yard laser than gave Robinson little chance.
This time, I was the one jumping up and down along with my friends, and there were grumpy hungover roommates emerging from bedrooms. I was ecstatic, but still worried. Cesc was freaking out. The away fans were freaking out. What were you doing--were you reaching for the booze?
KM: At 8 in the morning after a night of heavy drinking? No, it was one of those mornings where I swore I'd never touch booze ever again; this lasted until next Friday. It wasn't one of those goals where I had someone to yell at. It was bad defending, but not atrocious defending. The ref didn't do anything wrong. Arsenal didn't do anything dirty. It was just a good goal by a great player. I just quietly said 'f--k'. This goal and game was a seriously important one in the emergence of Cesc Fabregas as well, as I'm sure you're well aware. Right after this, he absolutely decimated Sevilla. It was the week where Cesc Fabregas went from "Great young player" to "World class".
TH: It absolutely was. 2007-08 was the first season where he became more than just a young talent with an eye for the killer pass; he emerged as our best midfielder, a goalscoring threat, and along with Mathieu Flamini, created a midfield pairing that was the best in the league for the first half of the season.
KM: Yes, this would also be the year that Flamini made Kaka his bitch for 180 minutes in a Champions League knockout stage tie. Afterwards, he joined Milan and hasn't been the same since. Flamini's career has been an odd one.
TH: It certainly has. I still wonder what would've happened had he stayed at Arsenal--would Wenger have ever made the switch to a 4-3-3, would Flamini and Cesc have gone down as the best midfield pair the Premier League had maybe ever produced?
KM: The world will never know how good they could have been, but no, they would not have been better than Scholes and Keane.
TH: No, that's probably true. Scholes and Keane may never be equalled.
KM: This is entirely off topic, which I'm enjoying. It's prolonging further discussion about Arsenal kicking Tottenham's ass.
TH: Well, let's get back to that.
KM: Oh joy.
TH: Jol brings on Darren Bent after Cesc scores. He missed an overhead kick and failed to beat Almunia after going clean through. How much did you want him to die at that point?
KM: This was the beginning of the end of Darren Bent at Spurs, and his career with us had only just begun. I feel like he never recovered from this game, which is an incredible shame. He's proven from his time at Sunderland, Aston Villa and Charlton that he's a great finisher, even if he's rubbish at everything else. After watching him almost save a crap Charlton team from the drop the previous year, I was stunned at the miss and I started thinking about curses and other such nonsense.
TH: Injury time arrived, and Denilson was clean through, but couldn't bury his chance. However, Cesc rifled in a hard pass to Adebayor, who flicked it up in the air and absolutely crushed the ball on the half-volley past Robinson.
It was a goal that Thierry Henry would've been proud of, a goal that Adebayor was never to equal again, but I didn't care at that point. I don't even remember what I did when he scored that goal, because I think I may have blacked out from lack of oxygen to my brain. At that point, did you throw your hands up in the air? There's not a lot that can be done about a goal like that one.
KM: The finish was fantastic, but the move started because Lee was being a jackass. Your right, our left flank was totally wide open and the move started when Rosicky passed to a completely unmarked Denilson. It was crap defending.
TH: A 3-1 loss to bitter rivals, at home, after a bad start to the season under Jol; after this game, what was your mood about Spurs and how the season was looking?
KM: Everyone was gutted. The results were terrible. We didn't look anything like a potential top-seven, European qualifying team.
TH: Jol was out a month and a half later, and Juande Ramos, manager of the aforementioned Sevilla, came in and righted the ship, including a seriously humongous 5-1 win against Arsenal in the Carling Cup three months after this match.
KM: Yes, we'll be talking a little about that game later this week over at Cartilage Free Captain. Of course, Juande Ramos didn't really work out either, but that's an entirely different discussion.
KM: So hey, how about all those trophies you won in the 2007-08 season?!?
My thanks to Kevin for the idea to do these posts and for this discussion. Keep an eye out for more matches featured both here and at Cartilage Free Captain in the coming days!