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Tottenham Hotspur 3 - 3 Arsenal: match report

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I made the same face, man.
I made the same face, man.

0 - 1 Walcott 5'
1 - 1 van der Vaart 7'
1 - 2 Nasri 12'
1 - 3 van Persie 40'
2 - 3 Huddelstone 43'
3 - 3 van der Vaart 70' pk

Tottenham and Arsenal played an instant Premier League classic today, the second North London derby finishing at 3-3 after 97 minutes of frazzled end-to-end action.  It was a match that had a bit of everything, a bit of every kind of goal, and alternating moments of brilliance and stupidity from both teams, and six goals of pretty stunning quality.  It was, more or less, apocalyptic for both teams.

It wouldn't be long after the start before the first goal came.  Theo Walcott sprang the offside trap straight up the middle, Vedran Corluka couldn't keep up, and the Englishman slotted past Heurelho Gomes easily, five minutes gone.  The White Hart Lane crowd hardly had time to silence themselves before Rafael van der Vaart leveled the score.  Questions could be asked of Abou Diaby and Wojciech Szczesny both on the goal, of the former for not being stronger against the Dutchman, and the latter for letting a shot in at his near post.  Those questions might be a tad harsh, though; it was a brilliant piece of work from van der Vaart, and a perfectly placed shot.

Play got a little sloppy from then on.  The game was very open, and it wouldn't stay 1-1 for long, as Samir Nasri stepped up and let rip from 20 yards, finding the bottom corner of Gomes' net.  It was a long shot, Spurs standing off Nasri, and he took the simple option and let fly.  2-1 to the Arsenal after 12 minutes, no signs of letting up.

Tottenham were playing mainly through launching diagonals to Bale and van der Vaart on the wings, and Arsenal weren't always doing the best job of closing down the wing play.  Crosses came flying in, and Peter Crouch was doing his utmost to flick on or head back across for Roman Pavyulchenko, who did his utmost to not score.

In the 29th minute, Walcott was again set free behind the Spurs lines, and nearly made it three, but his shot squibbled just wide of the far post.  At the other end, Pavyulchenko won a corner with a deflected shot, but William Gallas headed wide.

Gallas would compound his misery shortly thereafter at the other end, taking a heavy touch in his own penalty area and allowing Walcott to win the ball, float a cross over to Robin van Persie.  van Persie's initial header was saved brilliantly by Gomes, but the rebound fell right to Robin, and he crushed it home into the roof of the net. 3-1.

Spurs came back on the attack.  Gareth Bale fouled Szczesny, coming in late for a ball bouncing in the area, and flipped through the air, injuring his leg in the process.  While he was off the field, Spurs mounted another attack, Nasri Fabregas clearing directly to Tom Huddlestone 25 yards out.  The large midfielder let go with a daisy cutter first time that flew through van der Vaart's legs and curled wickedly into the bottom corner.  At 44 minutes, the goal was just what Spurs needed to go into halftime with a little burst at 3-2.

As the second half started, Spurs brought on Younas Kaboul and Aaron Lennon for Corluka and the injured Bale.  This reshaping saw Spurs retain much more of the possession, and Lukas Modric won yellow cards from both Alex Song and Johan Djourou while Abou Diaby did nothing either time, despite being placed to close the Croat down.  Maybe Arsène Wenger felt the same way, as he brought off Diaby for Jack Wilshere shortly thereafter.

van der Vaart forced a good save from Szczesny, who punched clear well from the corner.  The game was still open, and Arsenal should've had a fourth goal in the 58th minute, but the linesman judged van Persie to have strayed offside before he smashed home a half-volley.  Replays showed that he was wrong to do so.  It would be a crucial lacking fourth goal.

Walcott spurned a chance six minutes later, and six minutes after that, Arsenal's lax defending finally came home to roost.  Because it is a chicken.  Bacary Sagna inexplicably pushed up past Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who took a through ball, passed to Aaron Lennon, who bore down on Szczesny, and the latter came rushing out, missing the ball and taking out the man.  It was as easy a yellow card and spot kick as one will ever see, and van der Vaart did not miss, making him the second Dutch international to score a penalty against Arsenal in four days.  3-3 with 20 minutes to play was not a good place for anyone's hearts to be.

It was time for Gomes and Szczesny to do some work.  Szczesny made a wonderful save with his trailing leg on a Modric scuffle, and immediately at the other end, Gomes beat way two rasping Fabregas drives.  Peter Crouch headed a cross that Szczesny just tipped over the bar.  The Pole then saved from a van der Vaart effort before somehow catching a Sandro flamethrower between his thighs.

Spurs were really pressing now, both teams looking exhausted.  Nicklas Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin came on in a curious move from Wenger, the Dane playing wide right and crossing to van Persie again in Wenger's own personal version of asking a girl out that has already turned him down about nine times.  William Gallas' legs cramped up as Fabregas was blocked by Assou-Ekotto, and in stoppage time, Djourou blocked a Modric effort before Fabregas lasered wide at the other end, and Martin Atkinson blew for full time.

It was two points dropped for an Arsenal squad that led 3-1 at one point, but the match itself was enthralling stuff.  Neither team played well, but the match was nonetheless gripping.  Arsenal failed to capitalize on Manchester United's draw yesterday, but if they and Chelsea both beat United, all three teams will be level on points.

There is still hope, but Arsenal must play crisper and defend much better than they did today to have a chance.