Most soccer pundits will claim that Arsenal’s title challenge is over after their deserved 2-1 loss against Tottenham Hotspur Wednesday night when they were outclassed by a Spurs side who played more like they wanted to win. But the inconsistency that each of the Big Four clubs has shown this season tells us the Premier League title race is far from over.
Based on the performances of late, it’s entirely possible that Tottenham Hotspur will give Chelsea a tough time when the Blues visit White Hart Lane on Saturday afternoon. Plus, Manchester City has its best chance in ages of beating Manchester United at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday morning. Who does Arsenal play this weekend? None other than Wigan Athletic who disappointingly could only draw 0-0 Wednesday night against Portsmouth.
If Chelsea slips up against Spurs and Manchester City beats its cross-town rivals United, and Arsenal wins at the DW Stadium, the Gunners will move into second place and will only be three points behind Chelsea. And remember that Arsenal has the easiest run of fixtures between now and the end of the season in early May.
Having said that, Arsenal did not look anywhere near Premier League title contenders Wednesday night at White Hart Lane where they were completely played off the park until the last 20 minutes when Robin van Persie came on as a substitute to ignite Arsenal’s attack. Prior to that, Arsenal were pathetic, lacked a leader on the pitch, were flaccid in attack and failed to create any real chances except for an attempt that was cleared off the line in the first few minutes and a shot by Nicklas Bendtner that whizzed past the far post three quarters of the way into the match.
Tottenham’s game plan was perfect. Harry Redknapp’s side played exactly the way that Arsenal should have played against Barcelona. As soon as Arsenal got the ball, Tottenham pressured the players and stifled any chances of creating anything meaningful in midfield. When Spurs got the ball, they broke on the counter and used the pace of Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe to break down the Arsenal defense. But when Arsenal did attack, Tottenham quickly retreated and got nine men behind the ball to prevent Arsenal from having anyone to pass to in the box.
When Tottenham opened the scoring through a wonder goal by Danny Rose — and what a spectacular volley it was — the players and supporters at White Hart Lane erupted and it really seemed as if it was going to be Tottenham’s night. The 19-year-old Rose scored one of the goals of the season on his Premier League debut start. It doesn’t get any better than that for the former Leeds United footballer.
I won’t go into the full match report, but three players who were inspirational for me Wednesday night were Gareth Bale, Heurelho Gomes and Robin van Persie. Bale, even up until the final whistle, was explosive down the left wing for Tottenham. As he has been all season, he delivered dangerous crosses from the left wing, put every ounce of energy into his tackles and continually gave right back Bacary Sagna a tough time throughout the night until the Frenchman was taken off.
As for van Persie and Gomes, these two players created golden moments for highlight reels which we could watch over and over again. Van Persie had three incredible shots on goal and showed in just minutes what Arsenal has been missing most of the season. But just as van Persie delivered these world-class attempts on goal, Heurelho Gomes was equal to the task and performed save after world-class save to keep the Gunners at bay. When Arsenal finally did score through Bendtner, it was a flurry of a finish but Spurs held on for a well-deserved three points that re-ignites their race for fourth place.
This is one of those Premier League seasons that has been so topsy-turvy with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all flip-flopping in their race for the title. And at the same time, the race for fourth has seen several teams flip flop such as Manchester City, Spurs, Liverpool and Aston Villa. So many neutral observers of this league have complained for far too long that the league is too predictable. But in this final dash for the Premier League title and the race for fourth, we’ve seen how unpredictable this league and this season really is. What an incredible match we witnessed and what a brilliant advertisement it was for the English game.