Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Carling Cup: It May Not Be Much, But What A Game Tottenham v Arsenal Was!

Football is sport of beauty, art, strategy and athleticism combined. No, this is not about the upcoming Super Bowl. On January 22nd, I had the pleasure of seeing a souvenir moment. I saw a North London derby of immense proportion in the second leg of the Carling Cup semifinal. Sure, in terms of silverware on offer to be won in England the Carling Cup may not garner the most respect, but still, a trophy is a trophy. Anyone who has anything bad to say about it is jealous they didn't win it. The stage: an absolutely buzzing White Hart Lane. The combatants: Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. Before I jump into the action, a bit of background.

The 2007-08 season began with sheer anticipation for the white half of North London. Spurs still had Martin Jol at the helm, Gareth Bale, Younes Kaboul, Darren Bent and Kevin Prince-Boateng were purchased in the summer and Dimitar Berbatov was celebrated at the Lane as last season's best signing. Couple that with pundits confidently touting Tottenham as the team to take 4th spot in the league away from Arsenal without hesitation and things were looking up. While the big names weren't coming to Arsenal over the summer, that's no surprise because they almost never do anyway. However, mystery surrounded the signing of Eduardo da Silva, the Brazilian-born Croatian that Arsene Wenger brought in to replace recently departed legend, Thierry Henry.

2007 was a year of pain for Arsenal. They lost the Carling Cup final to Chelsea, were out of the title race and within 10 days were sent packing from The Champions League by PSV Eindhoven and muscled out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers leaving them with essentially nothing to play for. They got themselves into 4th place so they could qualify for Champions League play and went into autopilot for the remainder of the season.

Determined to rectify that season, Arsenal kicked off 2007-08 in flying fashion refusing to lose in the league till December when the hapless Middlesborough would somehow rise up and take them down. However, that doesn't blemish their season in the least as they are still in the title race, level on points at the top with a Manchester United side almost without weakness. Leading into the match at hand. Tottenham's season started bad with a loss to newly-promoted Sunderland and got worse as they lost one after another to opponents they should've put away without a breath. Though they participated in several thrillers. It was not enough for Martin Jol to keep his job. Enter a new era of change with the hire of 2-time UEFA Cup winner with Sevilla, Juande Ramos.

There was the birthday miracle where they went 4-1 down and clawed their way back in the final 10 minutes. Also the Fulham game where they went up 3-0 and crumbled in the second half and came away only with a draw. Of course, how could I not mention the 10-goal thriller that was Spurs' 6-4 victory over Reading. It was the Reading game that really signaled Tottenham's intent to finally start outscoring opponents.

Then came the Carling Cup semifinal draw that pitted Arsenal against Spurs over 2 legs. The first leg was an open game with attacking flare from both sides that finished 1-1, but saw Arsenal very lucky to come away without conceding another goal. In the build-up towards leg 2, there was something in the air about Arsenal coming to White Hart Lane this time. The stoic Juande Ramos had been the picture of absolute confidence on the sidelines and as time has passed in his tenure, Spurs look more the business every time they play. Even the squad selection by Arsene Wenger showed his nerve. Sure, he's used the Carling Cup to give his younger players experience, but after that first leg he knew he needed Gallas and Gilberton in defense and put his big guns Fabregas, Adebeyor and Eduardo on the bench. This had to have thrown the youth off. The rest is for the highlights.

It was great to see Tottenham finally get the better of Arsenal. I'm not a supporter of either club, just a lover of the game. So what's next for Spurs? Well, they get to play Manchester United in the FA Cup and probably lose. It would be really hard for God to go to Old Trafford and get a result against that team. Then they need to try to climb back up the table to the top 7 where the should be. Of course, the Carling Cup final will be a tough ask as well since they'll be pitted against a damn near indestructible Chelsea side that, without its huge stars, still refuses to lose. At least they can say they finally beat the gunners and for the first time in 9 years, Arsenal and Arsenal Reserves have to make room for Spurs in their monopoly of North London.

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