Arsene Wenger dropped Jack Wilshere to the bench after admitting the young England midfielder was tired, with Alex Song coming in, whilst Bacary Sagna replaced the villain of Sunday’s clash with Liverpool, Emmanuel Eboue. Harry Redknapp meanwhile, reverted to a direct 4-4-2 with van der Vaart initially dropping back into left midfield – with Aaron Lennon benched – as Roman Pavlyuchenko partnered Peter Crouch up front.
Lennon’s absence meant Tottenham looked unbalanced in the early stages as most of their play was directed towards the newly claimed PFA player of the year Gareth Bale, but the returning Sagna generally dealt with the Welshman. In the first period when Arsenal utilised their flanks they unsettled the hosts, with the pillaging Theo Walcott particularly inspired. Redknapp had plumped for Tom Huddlestone over Sandro, but up until his strike he looked off the pace and was careless in possession.
Characteristically, Arsenal looked dangerous on the counter attack with Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings in-behind Robin van Persie, as a frenzied first-half, at times, mirrored a training exercise with the free flowing attacking intent. Bale’s withdrawal, following a late first-half knock, brought Lennon into the fray for the second period, essentially then, it was like for like. Pavlyuchenko looked lively up front but Tottenham played the long diagonal ball for Crouch a little too often, especially when their midfield is graced with such good ball players.
Lennon picked up the reigns dropped by Bale as the former used his pace to trouble Sagna, whilst Wilshere was brought on to replace the injured Vassiriki Diaby, and he was forced to immediately adapt to the pace of a mesmerising derby. The second half tested the visitors resolve, as Redknapp’s men never gave up hope of foraging a way back into the game, and in fairness, Arsenal refused to be bullied.
The tempo of the second half was a continuation from the first but Arsenal were struggling to keep possession as Tottenham begun to look the more likely to find a winner. Unusually, Wenger’s men were found playing long balls from deep, and this was due to Spurs’ attempts to press their neighbours high up the pitch. Van der Vaart’s equalising penalty after 70 minutes, in-effect, served up an all or nothing 20 minute shoot-out, as both sides saw their respective seasons petering out.
It was 90 minutes which had everything, as the charm and bustle of this country’s elite football league prevailed. It was a result which was greeted with a louder cheer in Manchester than in the north of the capital – but these two old foes, yet again, emphatically lived up to the billing.