Arsenal blow their chance as Spurs rally in thriller
Yet again the Gunners let a lead slip and let United off the hook as Chelsea go second
Tottenham 3 Arsenal 3. It was the same old story for Arsenal fans at White Hart Lane last night as they watched their side race into an early lead only to let slip their advantage in the second half. How many times this season have the Gunners given away points through the incompetence of their defending? They did it against Newcastle, incredibly surrendering a 4-0 half-time lead, they did it in the home fixture against Tottenham, losing 3-2 after going in 2-0 at the break, and last night they threw away a 3-1 advantage.
The squandered two points cost Arsenal the chance to close the gap on leaders Manchester United to four points, but it also allowed Chelsea to move above them into second place thanks to their 3-1 win over Birmingham. The reigning champions are having something of a resurgence of late in the league, and as United boss Alex Ferguson admitted earlier in the week the greatest threat to his side might actually come from the Blues.
Arsene Wenger, however, believes his side can still pip United to the title, though the body language of his players at the final whistle suggested they no longer have the stomach for the fight. "It's not over. We will fight like mad for the next game," said Wenger, adding: "Of course we can do it. Chelsea are now back in the race. Chelsea play Manchester United and Tottenham but it's down to us. We have to keep our faith and keep battling... In the second half we dropped physically because we had a difficult game against Liverpool on Sunday. We've had two games in four days, our recovery was a bit short and we suffered physically in the second half but were very unfortunate to concede the penalty."
On the last count Wenger is wrong. It was a clear penalty, another blunder from an Arsenal keeper, as Wojciech Szczesny rushed out of his goal and brought down Aaron Lennon. Rafael Van der Vaart blasted home from the penalty spot to bring Spurs level at 3-3.
Thereafter the match never reached the heights of the first half when both sides produced 45 minutes of magnificent football. Spurs needed the points as much as Arsenal to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and the result was a high tempo game with both sides pushing for goals.
The first came on five minutes when Cesc Fabregas – outstanding throughout – slipped the ball to Theo Walcott who raced clear of his marker and coolly slotted the ball past the dive of Heurelho Gomes.
Arsenal fans had 82 seconds to celebrate their lead before Spurs were level through Van der Vaart. It was a sweet strike from the Dutchman but should Szczensy have been beaten at his near post?
The third goal came on 12 minutes when Samir Nasri thumped a pass from Abou Diaby on the edge of the box through a pair of Tottenham legs and past the slow-moving Gomes.
Both sides had more chances to score in the first half but Luka Modric had his shot well stopped by Szczesny, and Gomes just got his fingertips to a strike from Walcott. But there was little the Spurs keeper could do on 40 minutes when Walcott's chipped pass was blasted home by Robin Van Persie.
At 3-1 Arsenal were looking towards half-time but a minute before the break Tom Huddlestone pulled one back for the hosts with a thunderous half-volley from 30 yards.
In comparison to the first half the second period could almost be described as a disappointment, but there was still plenty of action. Van Persie had a goal disallowed for offside when TV replays suggested otherwise and Szczensy did well to keep out a Peter Crouch header.
The penalty shout was fair, and so was the result, a draw for two sides who produced one of the matches of the season. "What a great game, fantastic game," said Spurs boss Harry Redknapp later. His side now lie in fifth, two points behind Manchester City. "I didn't enjoy it when they went 3-1 up, but we fought back and got the goal before half-time. I felt we were excellent in the second half and we had the best chances to win it in the end." ·