Tottenham eliminated their mental block against Arsenal and booked a place in the Carling Cup final with a 5-1 rout on Tuesday. It was a miserable 21 matches for Spurs since they last experienced the sweet taste of victory over the Gunners, but nine years of anguish and self-doubt were swept away in style at White Hart Lane.
The fact that an electrifying atmosphere hangs over the jam-packed stadium (a phenemenon not usually seen in this “useless” competition), could have given an indication of things to come. Tottenham players knew what the fans are clamoring for and duly responded with a resounding victory.
Some Tottenham fans will prefer to attribute the flattering scoreline to skills and desire (indeed, Tottenham were more hungry, compact and cohesive) but I do not want to discount the element of luck. Tottenham manager Juande Ramos, as well as Martin Jol, have come close to achieving victories in the past but were always denied by late recovery from Arsenal.
The game plan Ramos devised was simple enough. Do not accord Arsenal players too much time and space on the ball. Harry them into losing possession or making skew passes. Invite Arsenal to attack and then launch swift counter-attack. It worked to a tee.
When Jenas collected Dimitar Berbatov’s pass 30 yards out and surged towards goal, it appeared harmless enough as a mass of defenders were in his way and he is not known for possessing enough guile to pass through them. What we do know is his ability to shoot from distance.
It took everybody by surprise as Jenas’s acceleration and control took him past four players and into the penalty area, where he fired a low drive past Lukasz Fabianksi off the far post. To get an early goal from Jenas settled the nerves but to race to a two goal lead in the first half hour proved critical.
When the second goal came in the 27th minute, it smacks of sheer luck but Ramos’s side deserved it. Jenas swung in a free-kick from the left and Bendtner, rising above Michael Dawson to clear the danger , succeeded only in heading into his own net.
Spurs were playing with the kind of fluid movement that Arsenal has made it their own. Tottenham had another gilt-edged chance earlier for a second goal when Keane powered past William Gallas before Justin Hoyte came to the rescue.
It was not Arsenal’s day as yet another player reported to their treatment room. Denilson’s injury midway through the first half forced Wenger to send on Cesc Fabregas, a substitution which he would have preferred not to use for this match. But the Spanish dynamo could not lift Arsenal’s gloom nor halt Tottenham’s momentum.
Berbatov wasted a chance to add a third when he took Jenas’s clever chested pass and sprinted away, but the Bulgarian’s shot hit the post. That near-miss briefly sparked an off-color Arsenal to life. Bacary Sagna forced Radek Cerny into action for the first time with a header that the Spurs keeper tipped over.
It wasn’t enough to for Arsenal to stamp their authority though as Spurs struck with a classic counter-attack in the 48th minute. Lennon’s lofted pass floated past Hoyte out of and gave Keane the chance to drive in a low shot that Fabianski let slip through his grasp into the far corner.
Adebayor reduced the deficit with a superb strike in the 70th minute. But Arsenal’s frustrations were clear when the Togo striker clashed heads with Bendtner. The party was not over for Spurs yet as a tap-in from Malbranque capped a magnificent night for Ramos’s team.
Wenger said: “They defended like mad and caught us on the break. I don’t give too much importance to the competition frankly. The score was very high and brutal but does not reflect what I saw on the pitch.” He also added that he did not see the Adebayor incident… must be selective blindness again.
Tottenham have now clinched a first cup final appearance for six years against Everton or Chelsea, the victor will be decided on Wednesday. Ramos said: “To get to Wembley is a fantastic achievement, especially for the fans. It is a long time since they have tasted a final and that makes it more satisfying.”
The trip to Wembley is proof of the progress Ramos has made since taking over in October but it pales in comparison to the significance of destroying their arch-rival. This is something which Martin Jol, despite bringing Tottenham to giddying heights for two consecutive seasons, never manage to achieve. Ramos still need to deliver trophies but for now, most Tottenham fans will concur with his appointment.
Did Arsenal underestimate Tottenham? I feel that Wenger has brought it upon himself by not giving enough respect to this competition and fielding a below-strength team which Spurs took full advantage of to record their biggest derby win for 25 years.
Arsenal had scrapped through at the Emirates Stadium two weeks ago by forcing a 1-1 draw in the first leg so I had actually expected Wenger to field a strong team and put Tottenham in their place but obviously, he has other considerations and this competition is too low a priority for him to expend his best resources.
It will be the FA Cup fourth round next. I don’t think Arsenal will suffer a second straight defeat against Newcastle. The Geordies are still finding their feet and not in the right frame of mind to take the game to Arsenal, the track record also shows that Arsenal usually bounce back strongly after a poor result, so Kevin Keegan better tighten his defense to prevent a humiliating backlash.