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Arsenal, Spurs set for London derby
Although there’s an awful lot of history surrounding the North London derby, one of the most dramatic enactments of the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to be renewed in the FA Cup this weekend took place only 14 months ago.
Emmanuel Adebayor was the central figure. Once of Arsenal, yet a controversial figure whose departure for Manchester City in 2009 had not been a cause of universal mourning among either fans or erstwhile colleagues in the dressing-room, he was clearly pumped up for Spurs’ visit to the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League.
At first the Togolese striker channeled his aggression usefully, putting his team in front after only 10 minutes amid chaos in the Arsenal defense that promised rich pickings for the men in white. But only another few minutes had passed when Adebayor launched a horrific tackle on Santi Cazorla and was sent off.
The dynamic of events changed completely as Per Mertesacker equalized. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud made Arsene Wenger’s side comfortable by half-time and it ended, as the corresponding fixture had done the previous season, 5-2, with further goals from Cazorla and Theo Walcott lending emphasis either side of a consolation from Gareth Bale.
Yes, Gareth Bale. At the end of the season he would leave Spurs for Real Madrid and, despite all the efforts made to replace him, the club panicked last month, sacking coach Andre Villas-Boas. So it’s a first derby as head coach for successor Tim Sherwood.
Indications of an improvement in the spirit of the squad under Sherwood, whose key change was to restore Adebayor – Villas-Boas had become the latest coach to fall out with him – and place the accent on attack, were confirmed on New Year’s Day when Spurs repeated their victory under Villas-Boas at Manchester United last season.
But this is the FA Cup, and now we’ll see how Sherwood fares at the squad game. He’s bound to make changes in order to rest minds and limbs wearied by the hectic festive schedule. Wenger will do the same. But the collision at the Emirates probably means more to Spurs and their fans, who will travel in numbers – the FA stipulate a significantly greater share of seats for the visiting club than the Premier League – in the hope of securing bragging rights.
Minds will inevitably be cast back to 1991 and, from Spurs’ point of view, the most memorable FA Cup meeting of the clubs. Arsenal were, as now, league leaders and favorites to win the first semi-final ever staged at Wembley. But Spurs had two special players – Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne – and between them they prevailed in style.
The free-kick with which Gazza put Spurs ahead after five minutes is often talked about as one of the greatest, mainly because of the formidable range – some 30 yards – and the quality of the goalkeeper. Yet David Seaman, who had played in the same England team as Gazza and Lineker when they lost on penalties to the Germans in a World Cup semi-final less than a year earlier, was left helpless as the ball raged into his top left-hand corner.
In the 20th minute, Lineker increased Spurs’ lead and, although Alan Smith pulled one back just before half-time, it was Lineker again to settle matters. Spurs went on to beat Nottingham Forest in the final, continuing a tradition of success in years that ended with “1.” But it didn’t apply a decade later when, with the old Wembley bowl a pile of rubble awaiting reconstruction, the rivals were again drawn together at the semi-final stage and locked horns at Old Trafford.
Gary Doherty put Spurs in front, but Patrick Vieira equalized before Robert Pires scored the goal that sent Arsenal to the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. There, they lost to Liverpool.
As the years went by, the spectacle of the North London derby seemed to increase. There was a sensational 4-4 tie in October 2008, the tone set by a brilliant long-range lob from David Bentley, now at Spurs after spending his early career with Arsenal. With a few minutes left Arsenal led 4-2, yet Jermain Jenas and Aaron Lennon squeezed in the goals that created equality.
By now the rivalry was more than a century old. It had begun when Arsenal, originally a South London club known as “Woolwich Arsenal” after the national armory situated in that district, was brought across the river by its owner, Sir Henry Norris. The Tottenham response could be summarized as “Not in our back yard,” but Norris bought land, built a stadium and even negotiated a dubious deal after the First World War that saw his team stay in the top division at Spurs’ expense.
The bitterness had been created and, although the details are forgotten by all but a few of the more historically minded among the fans of each side, it survives. Guys like the England defender Sol Campbell, who let his Tottenham contract run down so he could join Arsenal for free, have made sure of that. So, Adebayor’s just the latest in a long line that began with Sir Henry Norris.
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