According to the Christmas story, 2,000 years ago three Kings travelled to the East bearing gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were the offerings back then but this weekend it was one King who came bearing the gifts of three goals at a stadium named Emirates in the West. Myrrh was used as an embalming substance for funerals, and on Saturday Spurs were busy providing their own funeral in two nightmare minutes just before half time. Manager Harry Redknapp went so far as to call it suicide, and strangely it was the usually imperious and reliable Ledley King who was at least partly at fault for all three Arsenal goals on the day.
The first goal scored by the Gunners’ Robin van Persie saw the Dutchman beat King to a low cross after Arsenal took a quick throw-in on the left flank. King was simply too slow to react, allowing van Persie to get a yard ahead and leaving enough room for the striker to nudge the ball under the dive of Heurelho Gomes. The Brazilian goalkeeper got a hand to the ball, but the pace of it was enough to carry it past his desperate dive into the back of the net. Trailing one-nil at half time would not have been disastrous, even if the timing of the goal was a kick in the teeth after Tottenham had fought well to be on level terms so close to the break. All that was required was for Spurs to consolidate for the last two minutes of the half and make sure they stayed within touching distance going in to the second period. Sadly, that proved beyond them.
Having just conceded, the last thing Spurs needed was for Wilson Palacios to dwell on the ball on the halfway line but that is just what the Honduran did. Finding van Persie swiftly upon him, the midfielder made a poor attempt to get rid of the ball and found only the recent goalscorer with his pass. Van Persie slipped the ball inside to Cesc Fabregas who went on a storming run directly through the centre of the Tottenham team. Though Palacios will carry the obvious blame for Arsenal’s second goal, just 11 seconds after Spurs kicked off following the first; King will again feel he could have done much better. A half-hearted attempt at a tackle whilst being last man and going to ground without much strength in the challenge is simply not good enough for the usually reliable Tottenham stalwart. The whole spine of the team was to blame for allowing Fabregas to cut through them like a warm knife into butter; however King was best placed to get a firm foot in and remove the danger, a task he failed to achieve as Fabregas grabbed Arsenal’s second of the match.
Of course, two-goal leads are never a guarantee of victory, and it was the timing of the goals rather than the score line that was the real blow for Spurs. A week earlier, Arsenal had given away a two-goal half time lead against West Ham and there was hope for Redknapp’s team that they could get back in to the game. However, that hope drained away on the hour mark as Tottenham forgot the old adage learnt by everyone when they were kids: play to the whistle. Benoit Assou-Ekotto fouled Eduardo on the wing, but with his linesman flagging for a free-kick, referee Mark Clattenburg signalled an advantage for Arsenal. Everyone had stopped in anticipation of the whistle, including Gunners right-back Bacary Sagna who was now in possession. Upon realising the advantage had been played, it was Sagna who reacted much quicker than Assou-Ekkoto and his defensive colleagues, playing the ball across the six yard line to where King and Gomes got in each other’s way and failed to cut out the ball. Van Persie was left with the easiest of tap-ins and Arsenal’s three-goal win was sealed thanks to a third gift from King and his subjects.
Redknapp was quick to slam his team for their sloppiness on the day, yet was swift to dismiss the result as having any long-term significance, denying his team had hit a blip with two straight league defeats, Redknapp fumed: “We committed suicide really. All three goals were scandalous, there wasn’t a good goal amongst them. Giving Fabregas the ball from the kick-off was Sunday morning football.” More even-minded, he said: “We’ve not hit a blip. We got beaten by Arsenal today but we’ve got 19 points and we’ll still be right up there at the end of the season.” Spurs may still be in a good position, but their fans care about the derby. It is now a decade since the supporters saw a win over their fiercest rivals and the wait will continue if the team continue to gift goals away with such alacrity.