Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Arsenal vs. Tottenham: Match Review

Both final spots in this year's Carling Cup are still up for grabs, as neither Arsenal nor Tottenham grabbed a decisive victory at the Emirates today. Chelsea are up 2-1 against Everton in the other semifinal, but will still face a tough away game at Goodison park before advancing to the finals.

Tottenham looked set to win today's entertaining encounter against their greatest rivals for the first time in eight years, after going up 1-0 in the first half thanks to Jermaine Jenas. However, Theo Walcott equalized for the Gunners with just over ten minutes to go to ensure that the return leg at White Heart Lane will not be a mere formality.

Arsenal: Lukasz Fabianksi; Justin Hotye, Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos, Armand Traore; Abou Diaby, Neves Denilson, Gilberto Silva, Theo Walcott; Nicklas Bendtner, Robin van Persie

Tottenham: Radek Cerny; Pascal Chimbonda, Ledley King, Michael Dawson, Lee Young-Pyo; Jermaine Jenas, Steed Malbranque, Aaron Lennon, Jamie O'Hara; Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane

As we have become accustomed to seeing, Arsenal flew out of the gates, with a blistering pace being set for the match.

Nicklas Bendtner had the Gunners best chance of the first half after a superb reverse pass from fit-again Robin van Persie resulted in a cross from Justin Hoyte. The Danish striker, who had scored a header against Tottenham in the Premier League, had his strong header brilliantly saved at full-stretch by Tottenham number two Radek Cerny.

The end of the opening exchanges saw Spurs on the ascendancy, slowly taking control of the game as the inexperience of Arsenal's cup squad began to show.

The visitors should have scored around the half-hour mark when a fine saving tackle from captain Philippe Senderos (didn't think you'd ever hear that did you?) saw the ball fall to Steed Malbranque about 12 yards from goal. The midfielder had a great chance with Lukasz Fabianski out of position, but shot well wide of the keeper's right-hand post.

The Polish keeper then proved his worth, saving a well-struck 20-yared shot from Dimitar Berbatov.

It wouldn't take long for Tottenham to find the back of the net though, as a poor header from Johan Djourou eventually led to a first half lead for Juande Ramos' side. Berbatov picked up the loose ball and chipped the ball to Robbie Keane who was helped to a two on one against Fabianski by the well-timed run of Jermaine Jenas. Keane squared the ball to the midfielder, who struck past Fabianski's outstretched leg to give Tottenham an invaluable away goal.

Arsene Wenger brought on some of his more experienced players for the second half, with Sagna on for Djourou (and Hoyte switching to center back) and Eduardo on for the not-yet match-fit van Persie.

Nonetheless, Arsenal failed to find a good chance before the hour mark. The young side were wasteful in possession and found it hard to even threaten in the attacking third.

They began to find their form in the final fifteen minutes though, as Sagna's overlapping runs on the right gave the team some width and the midfielders began to find their passing rhythm.

The equalizer finally came in the 79th minute when Eduardo slipped a perfectly weighted ball through two Tottenham defenders to reach Theo Walcott. Young-Pyo Lee tried to tackle the ball away, but could only deflect it onto the 18 year-old's chest. The England U21 international slotted home past a hapless Cerny to level the game.

The goal brought Arsenal fans and players into high spirits, and the Emirates faithful began hoping for a win, with their side pressing forwards.

It was Tottenham who came closer to a second goal though, when Jermaine Defoe shot over the crossbar after an excellent cross from Aaron Lennon.

The miss was a huge let-off for an Arsenal side who undeservedly held on to go into the return leg on equal terms.