Thrilling derby draw is no use to Arsenal or Spurs in bids for the title and Champions League spot
TOTTENHAM 3 vs ARSENAL 3
ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger refused to concede the title to Manchester United despite seeing his side throw away a two-goal lead against north London rivals Spurs for the second time this season.
On this occasion they at least hung on for a point, but they will feel they should have collected a maximum haul once Robin van Persie had lashed them into a 3-1 lead four minutes before the interval. Earlier, Rafael van der Vaart’s fine strike came in between well taken goals from Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri, but it was Tom Huddlestone’s 44th minute thunderbolt which changed the contest.
Spurs bossed large periods of the second-half and it was no surprise when Van der Vaart’s penalty levelled matters to earn his side a point which may have scuppered Arsenal’s title hopes, but in truth does little to bridge the gap between them and fourth placed Manchester City.
Despite the loss of two points, a defiant Wenger said: “It’s not over. We’ll fight. In the second half we dropped physically because we had a difficult game on Sunday. We’ve had two games in three days, our recovery was a bit short.
“We came here to score goals and played a team who are very good going forward. Huddlestone’s was an amazing goal.
“Our mental strength is outstanding. We have faced criticism but this team deserves much more.”
Despite the encouraging nature of their latest act of north London derby escapology, Harry Redknapp was the more pessimistic of the two managers, insisting City, who hold a two-point advantage, are strong favourites to claim fourth place and entry into the Champions League.
“City were favourites at the start of the year because of their squad,” said Redknapp. “We finished a couple of points above them last year and they’ve spent about £150m. But I can’t ask for more. The spirit we’ve got is fantastic. We never give up.”
The tone for a memorable night was set in the fifth minute by Walcott, who sprinted clear and neatly slotted past Heurelho Gomes, but Van der Vaart blasted Tottenham level 82 seconds later with a shot that fizzed in at the near post.
Arsenal regained their composure and advantage 10 minutes later when Nasri’s low drive flew past an unsighted Gomes and Van Persie looked to have sealed victory when he thumped home from close range after his initial header had been clawed out by Gomes.
A weak clearance from Cesc Fabregas, however, fell to Huddlestone a minute before the break and the England midfielder thumped home a magnificent strike from 25 yards.
And Spurs earned a point when Van der Vaart converted from the spot with 20 minutes left after Wojciech Szczesny brought down substitute Aaron Lennon.
THE RUN-IN | FIVE KEY CLASHES
CHELSEA V TOTTENHAM, 30 APRIL
If Tottenham are to make the top four again, just as last season, they’ll have to do it the hard way. This time last year they beat Arsenal and Chelsea at home in the space of four days. They’ll have to something similar if they are to overhaul Manchester City.
ARSENAL V MAN UTD, 1?MAY
The title may have gone, but Arsenal’s hopes of automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League may depend on a positive result here should their recent slide continue. Nothing about their recent head-to-head record against United will give them hope of securing a much needed victory here.
MAN UTD V CHELSEA, 8?MAY
This could well turn out to be the game that sees United clinch the title, in a role reversal from last season when Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford saw them all but reclaim the Premier League crown.
MAN CITY V TOTTENHAM, 10 MAY
Roberto Mancini’s men will be out for revenge. In last season’s corresponding fixture, the penultimate game of that campaign, Peter Crouch’s late goal gave Spurs a 1-0 win which saw them qualify for Europe’s premier club competition for the first time, at City’s expense.
LIVERPOOL V SPURS, 15 MAY
The Merseysiders are still clinging on to the hope that sixth place will offer them a place in next season’s Europa League. A trip to Anfield was not such a daunting prospect earlier this season, but the return of Kenny Dalglish and January signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll have changed that. Spurs have a quite appalling record there, too.