Wednesday 29 January 2020

Adebayor's red card opens the floodgates for Arsenal

Arsenal 5
Tottenham 2

At this rate Emmanuel Adebayor will become a hate figure on both sides of north London. Having baited his former club in comments published yesterday before scoring against them at lunchtime – inevitably celebrating in front of the Arsenal supporters – he was then quickly dismissed for a lunge at Santi Cazorla that turned this derby match on its head and spoiled what was shaping up to be an epic encounter.

"It was not a rose, it was not a yellow, it was red," said Arsene Wenger of his former striker's brainless actions, and while Spurs head coach Andre Villas-Boas agreed that referee Howard Webb was probably correct in dismissing Adebayor, he also, to a surprising degree, defended his errant player.

"It's a challenge that happens in the game," he said, denying that Adebayor was "too pumped up". There will be no further words, no disciplinary action. There should be.

Adebayor was not just reckless in his challenge; his actions were reckless in his club's fortunes. Villas-Boas also attempted to reason that the sending-off had not proved decisive – "I don't think it changed the running of the game" – but it clearly was, as a relieved Wenger acknowledged.

Maybe Villas-Boas was simply being protective and, as understandable as that is, his analysis that despite the dismissal, Spurs remained largely in control "from first minute to last" was skewed. It was all the more frustrating for him in that he not only went with a bold line-up, with Adebayor partnering Jermain Defoe in attack and the more decisive Hugo Lloris in goal, but he got his tactics right as Spurs attacked and pressed a clearly nervous Arsenal high up the pitch.

Even at 3-1 down at half-time, he also got his tactics correct by withdrawing both full-backs, reverting to three defenders and asking Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale to double-up as wing-backs. It was spot on. Arsenal scored again, but then Bale reduced the deficit and suddenly it was Spurs who were creating chances.

In the end Arsenal repeated the last February's result – when they had trailed by two goals and not just the one as they did yesterday – in a result that kick-started their season and saw them eventually overhaul Spurs for third place.

Wenger had said then that the outcome had had a "doping" effect on Arsenal's season but there was only one dope yesterday: Adebayor. In Spurs' two-tone away shirts he turned in the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde performance and, this morning, Villas-Boas must contemplate on how fortune has deserted him this season with injuries, late goals, some frustrating transfer deals and now this from a striker who will miss the next three matches.

Still Spurs, despite suffering a third league defeat in a row, are moving in the right direction under Villas-Boas and once he gets the likes of Mousa Dembele back, that luck will change, even if it will be hard to look at the table today and see that Arsenal have leapfrogged above them. Wenger was indebted to an outstanding performance from Cazorla – all the more galling as he was a player Villas-Boas had wanted to sign – and also to that contract-rebel Theo Walcott, who left the pitch, last off, to a rousing reception. There were also more signs that Jack Wilshere will return to his best form, and that Olivier Giroud can develop into a top-notch frontline striker.

That is what Adebayor should already be – and he was for the first part of this match. His goal came when Jan Vertonghen was allowed to stride forward and pick out Defoe, whose shot was parried weakly by the returning Wojciech Szczesny only for Adebayor to tap it home.

Then, after Lennon went within a whisker of adding a second, Adebayor lunged at Cazorla, who was simply too quick for him. Both of the striker's feet were off the turf and after Bale and Wilshere had squared up to each other, Webb showed the red card to Adebayor. It energised Arsenal who exploited Kyle Naughton's vulnerability at left-back with Walcott crossing, under no pressure, for Per Mertesacker to head powerfully beyond Lloris, who then pulled off outstanding saves, twice, from Giroud. But Spurs could not hold out to half-time and goals from Lukas Podolski, scuffed and taking a deflection, and then Giroud, who poked home from close-range after another fine run by Cazorla, proved decisive.

Arsenal extended their lead with Walcott finding Podolski, who crossed low for Cazorla to convert. Surely it was game over? But, no. Spurs rallied with Bale running at the Arsenal defence and pulling a goal back and then he should have had another – or crossed to Defoe – when he burst on to Clint Dempsey's pass. In the end it was Walcott who wrapped up the win to reignite Arsenal's campaign.


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