Classic Premier League Games: Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham

It remains one of the most entertaining matches in Premier League history, a game which featured great goals, monumental mistakes and electrifying, exhilarating drama. In Harry Redknapp’s first away game in charge of Tottenham Hotspur, his team were responsible for one of the most spectacular endings to a north London derby in living memory.

Redknapp had been appointed three days previously, with Spurs finally securing their first victory of the campaign as the former Portsmouth manager took his place in the White Hart Lane dugout for the visit of Bolton Wanderers. That win was not enough to lift Tottenham off the foot of the table, however, with a return of two points from a possible 24 under Juande Ramos condemning them to a place in the relegation zone two months into the season.

“There is real quality in this group of players here,” Redknapp said after the defeat of Bolton. “You look through and there are international players. You look at the quality and they shouldn’t be where they are, but two points in eight games is an amazingly bad start. We have to start working as hard as we did today for each other, picking up points, playing as we did – they passed the ball with real quality which I was really impressed with.”

Twentieth place was clearly a false position for Tottenham – who included Luka Modric, Darren Bent, Ledley King, Aaron Lennon, Jonathan Woodgate and a young Gareth Bale among their number – to be in. Relegation was therefore not a genuine fear, but confidence was clearly down and the optimism which followed Spurs’ victory over Chelsea in the League Cup final in February had evaporated. In the short-term, then, Redknapp had a big job on his hands to stop the rot and put the building blocks in place to help the north Londoners climb up the table.

Arsenal had made a much more positive start to the season, winning six of their first nine encounters to sit in fourth ahead of the derby, with four points separating them from the early pace-setters Liverpool at the summit of the standings. Arsene Wenger’s men had shown some signs of vulnerability, though, namely in shock losses to Fulham (0-1) and surprise package Hull City (1-2), and would certainly not have been considered unbeatable by Redknapp when the action got under way at the Emirates Stadium on a chilly Wednesday night in late October.

His hope of a second successive win as Tottenham boss were boosted early on, with David Bentley scoring a stunning long-range strike against his former club to send the travelling supporters delirious. Modric’s hooked pass was chested down by Jermaine Jenas, before Bentley cushioned the ball on his instep and sent a looping volley over the head of Manuel Almunia from 40 yards. It was a sensational effort from a player who was certainly capable of flashes of brilliance; “you have just seen one of the great goals of this season… [there’s] absolutely no doubt about that,” said Sky Sports co-commentator Andy Gray.

Conceding in the first quarter of an hour sparked Arsenal into life, but they had to wait until the 37th minute to get back on level terms. Cesc Fabregas – who had joked before the match that Spurs would struggle to beat Arsenal Ladies – had gone close to an equaliser previously, but it was Mikael Silvestre who got his name on the scoresheet, flicking Robin van Persie’s corner into the net.

Another Van Persie delivery set up Arsenal’s second, scored by William Gallas less than a minute into the second half. The Dutchman won the free-kick from which he sent another wicked cross into the penalty area, with the future Tottenham defender rising highest to edge the Gunners in front. “You get the feeling that Arsenal just might need another, the way this game has gone,” Gray said soon after. He was not wrong.

In fact, Wenger’s charges scored twice more and it was still not enough to bring them victory. First, Van Persie sliced open the Tottenham defence with a brilliant pass from deep, sending Samir Nasri racing through on goal. The Frenchman dinked the ball over goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, with Emmanuel Adebayor helping it over the line as Spurs right-back Alan Hutton raced back in vain.

Tottenham were not out of it just yet, though, as Darren Bent reminded the home crowd by converting from close-range after Almunia had failed to hold Tom Huddlestone’s drive from distance. Yet within seconds of pulling the scores back to 3-2, Arsenal restored their two-goal cushion through the excellent Van Persie, who rifled a right-footed shot home after a sloppy giveaway from Hutton had led to a three-versus-two situation in the home team’s favour.

Some of the travelling fans opted to depart after that goal, but those who remained were rewarded with a dramatic finale. Jenas took full advantage of Gael Clichy’s slip to motor forward and bend a fine finish into the corner in the 89th minute, setting up a nervy ending for an Arsenal outfit who had memories of throwing away a lead in that aforementioned home defeat by Hull a few weeks previously.

Such anxiety was evidenced by the whistles which rang around the Emirates as Spurs pushed for a fourth, with Arsenal fans imploring referee Martin Atkinson to bring the game to an end. The man in yellow did not oblige, however, and those supporters’ worst nightmare was realised deep into injury time, when Lennon side-footed the ball into the net after Modric’s deflected shot had cannoned off the post. Cue pandemonium in the away end and on the touchline, where Spurs’ coaching staff went wild while Redknapp barked instructions at his defenders.

“This is a magnificent advert for this game we love,” Gray chuckled as Lennon’s colleagues piled on top of the Tottenham hero. “Harry’s team should be out of this game. Harry’s team should be going home having done quite well. But they’re not. They’re going home with a point in the most extraordinary of circumstances.” 

By Greg Lea

Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.