Vuvuzela Match Report: Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal, the North London Derby like you’ve never seen
Of the two important English Premier League derbies this weekend, the North London fixture had much more narrative meat to mine than its Merseyside cousin. Arsenal in crisis, injuries still mounting, signings largely ineffectual, old problems persisting, systemic, metastasized. At Spurs the stories are more personal. Adebayor, the prodigal son, returning to face his old home but now as hated enemy, disowned child. Luka Modric, a want-away denied his greener pastures. Scott Parker, desperate to prove his worth despite his age and keep earning the right to play for his country. Gareth Bale, last year’s Champions League wunderkid hungry for a return to glory, to live up to his own unfairly massive hype. Brad Friedel, hard old bastard/American Hero (fuck yeah!). The pictures were harder to draw, too. Let’s begin!
As if to show off just how bad Arsenal’s medical/training staff are, the Premier League’s Designated Wildman Alex Song, naturally a holding midfielder, was forced to start at centerback alongside new signing from Werder Bremen and Germany international, the giant Per Mertesacker. That’s right—Vermaelen, Koscielny, even Johan “The Bungler” Djourou, they’re all out injured. Squillaci might be around but honestly, isn’t that worse?
Spurs very much had their shit together, and looked even better by comparison. Like, there isn’t really much to talk about for them? Lil’ Modric has been playing well despite the club’s denial of his desired move to Chelsea. He’s a pro like that. Adebayor is playing against the club that made him, and for the Old Enemy. It’s dramatic and such, but this is at White Hart Lane and Manu personally doesn’t seem to be all that torn up inside. Tottenham’s bottom line: Fourth place is very much theirs if they can keep it together for the season.
The game kicked off, and the first twenty minutes were tense, as would be expected. Both teams were nervous about getting a good start and played with a kind of shrill anxiety that was fun to watch but didn’t really go anywhere, much like the fumbling and pawing I used to think of as foreplay in the soft focus sepia-toned days of my adolescent sexual development.
One thing I did glean from these opening minutes was further elaboration of my developing theory about Gervinho’s quality as a player. He sucks, but it’s not because he’s unskilled or lacks talent. On paper and no doubt in FIFA 12 Gervinho is an excellent footballer. But reality is infinitely messier and crueler. The former Lille man’s case is a matter of team chemistry and him not having any. Gervy rarely if ever makes a good pass or meaningfully participates in team build-up play. Over the past few games I’ve seen him time and again receive the ball out on the flank, cut inside, dart forward, and dribble past one defender directly into another defender. Do Arsenal have any proper wingers, or would that be too reasonable?
It’s not all bad for Arsenal though—the new kid Coquelin is pretty good, and had a particularly bright first half. The future of Arsenal’s midfield—Wiltshere, Frimpong, Coquelin, Song—is promising. Living up to that promise is, well, yeah you get it.
The game went on and five minutes before half time Van der Vaart scored off a beautiful assist from Adebayor, who has been playing better than he ever has lately.
The goal rattled Arsenal almost as much as it invigorated Tottenham (a lot), and barely a minute later Gareth Bale almost scored with one of his characteristic screamers. It went just over the bar though.
Arsenal came back from half time re-energized and hungry, while Tottenham were complacent. Alex Song, the Premier League’s Designated Wildman, took the ball all the way up to the byline and served up a sweet spot-hitting low cross for Aaron Ramsey to tap in. Just in case yall forgot, Alex Song was playing at centerback in this game. Crazy.
A few minutes later Adebayor had a great chance for Spurs, only kept out thanks to an excellent Szczęsny. It was just visually cool. Too hard to draw though.
Time marched on and Van der Vaart came off for Sandro. VDV seemed cool with it, unlike in times past when he used to get all pissy about not getting to play the full 90. His lax effort at closing down Song led to Arsenal’s equalizer, so he probably knew why he was going off and accepted that his team needed a more defensively sturdy player out there if they wanted to win. And he’d gotten his goal so his job was done.
Sandro came out and much to my anger his hair, which in previous weeks has been mohawked with bright red and then blue sides, was (though still mohawked) only a boringly normal black.
Bacary Sagna collided in midair with Benoit Assou-Ekotto and fell weirdly on the hard part of the pitch. Turns out he broke his leg. As he lay there in pain motioning for medical staff, the crowd booed and whistled, because of course they did.
While yes, of course the booing members of the crowd are all assholes, this incident was for me the best indictment of diving one can possibly come up with. Players feign injury with such appalling regularity that in some ways you can almost understand why the crowd of opposition fans would assume that a man with a broken leg wasn’t actually hurt. Diving sets up a Boy Who Cried Wolf problem for players and the one who gets hurt most by it is not fairness or honesty or the other team or “the beautiful game” itself or any of that crap—the one who gets hurt most by diving is the one who becomes actually injured. So the next time you see Luis Suarez or Dani Alves collapse in a fit of feigned agony and take ten minutes to get carried off the field on a stretcher only to jump right back up and continue playing on as if nothing had happened, don’t think about how your team has been cheated or the tackler sent off. Think about Bacary Sagna lying on the floor with a broken leg as hundreds above him sneer and boo and spit at him.
Moving on. Theo Walcott, who disappears when the pressure’s on, got subbed off. He looked sad.
A bit later, 21-year-old Tottenham right back Kyle Walker scored a screamer that bent and dipped just seconds before making it to the goal line, fooling Szczęsny and putting Spurs back in the lead.
Good for you bro!
Instead of straight up losing it, Arsenal actually intensified after the second goal, and made some really dangerous plays. One such play was broken up by classic hottie Scott Parker, for whom the commentators clearly had major boners. Can’t really blame them though, the guy played with “passion” and “commitment” but like if those words actually meant something. For instance, he fell over with cramp one minute only to pick himself up and run halfway down the field to break up an Arsenal attack the next, after which he again collapsed with cramp, only to get up again, and rinse, and repeat, until Harry Redknapp finally showed mercy and subbed him off. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard should all be even more embarrassed than they should be generally when Parker is playing.
Adebayor got subbed off near the end as well, and the home crowd seemed to love him. Apparently though, visiting Arsenal fans were loudly wishing he was dead. Their chants referenced Angola, the place where Adebayor, with his Togolese national team, had experienced a gunfire attack by Angolan rebels before the Africa Cup of Nations last year. If I were him I would have gone Cantona on those shitheads, but Adebayor just smiled and laughed it off. I hope it made them realize how small, how petty, how empty they were. It probably didn’t, but a guy can dream.
The last five minutes got INTENSE. Arsenal kept putting the pressure on thick, each time more ferocious and desperate. For the last play of the game, an Arsenal corner, Szczęsny jogged up to Tottenham’s area and got ready to throw down. Nothing came of it though, and then the whistle blew. Tottenham 2, Arsenal 1. How Wenger’s boys can recover from this latest humiliation, I don’t even know any more. They seem to just keep sinking deeper and deeper into the muck.
Adebayor and Song were still cool with each other, though. And friendship is the only thing that really matters, after all. Right?
Wrong. Tottenham are now strong favorites for fourth and Arsenal are in free fall. They needed this win bad, and they failed to get it. We’ll be hearing “Wenger out” going around if things don’t change, dramatically and soon.
So what did we learn today? Well, just remember kids,
This has been a special Vuvuzela Match Report brought to you byToblerone Jones. See you October 15th for the English Premier League match Liverpool vs. Manchester United. Class dismissed.