By Callum McCarthy,
Arsenal’s youth team has been known as the best academy in England for almost 10 years now, and Arsene Wenger’s policy of fielding this youth team in the League Cup has now become a tradition. His counterpart Harry Redknapp was also expected to field a fresh-faced team, as seems to be the done thing with top teams in the League Cup,
As the elevens were released, a mental picture came to this reporter in the form of both managers throwing back their heads with laughter, before uttering the word “touche” from behind a cigar.
This was no youth team game — a total of 14 internationals took the field at White Hart Lane — but admittedly, it was very hard to tell.
After a scrappy opening full of nervous energy, it would be Arsenal’s Henri Lansbury to put them ahead, finishing an inch perfect Jack Wilshere cross that swept low across the six yard box, leaving the 18 year old with an easy conversion.
1-0 Arsenal, and it was almost baffling that this tally wasn’t added to within the 90 minutes of normal time.
Samir Nasri (photo), Carlos Vela and Tomas Rosicky spearheaded Arsenal’s attack — a unit that looked content in each other’s company — and ultimately had Tottenham’s young defense learning lesson after lesson. The versatile midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Denilson and Lansbury also looked at ease, each playing a clearly defined role in which they were comfortable.
Tottenham on the other hand looked reminiscent of poorly made patchwork quilt, with Wilson Palacios occupying left midfield and recent addition Sandro playing the Honduran’s favored role anchoring the centre circle. Like a tribal tattoo on a nerd, it just didn’t look quite right.
Harry Redknapp made a credible attempt to fix this situation, introducing Robbie Keane and Aaron Lennon to the fray to try and spark Tottenham’s jigsaw puzzle front line into action. Almost immediately, Tottenham had their equalizer.
Young centre-back Kyle Naughton’s stabbed pass found Robbie Keane in the D, who turned and side footed past the hapless Fabianski, who let the ball through his hands and into the net. To make matters even worse, Keane was noticeably offside — essentially gifted his goal.
His celebration was more congruous with a 35 yarder that broke a land speed record than a goal that was essentially gold, frankincense and myrrh handed to him on a silver platter.
Disregarding all that, the game had been leveled, and calmer heads were descending on the 22 on the pitch. Carlos Vela came close twice — firstly with a 25 yard free-kick that skimmed the net — and secondly with a headed chance that should have been put away, as deep cross from Tomas Rosicky was spurned wide by the young Mexican.
Overall, the football was fast-paced and superb, but lacked incision in the final third. The introduction of Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh made some difference to Arsenal’s play, in particular their final salvo. Breaking with pace and urgency, Arsenal had a series of half chances to put the game to bed.
Denilson’s long range effort skewed hilariously wide, and two goalmouth scrambles came to nothing for Arsenal as the game moved into extra time.
Whatever was said at the break seemingly made Spurs commit footballing suicide, as two clumsy challenges later and Arsenal were 3-1 up — two Samir Nasri penalties effectively burying Spurs.
The first was Nasri’s work, cutting into the area and getting the wrong side of Bassong who stupidly made contact with the less than robust Frenchman. Nasri fell into a heap, and promptly sent Pletikosa the wrong way.
Arsenal’s second penalty was less contentious, as Marouane Chamakh’s shirt was attemptedly stolen by the tiring Steven Caulkner.
Nasri stepped up once more, and once more Pletikosa chose the wrong corner.
To finish, Andrey Arshavin’s very own brand of icing — Jack Wilshere sliding a pass through the Tottenham defense to leave the dynamic Russian to fire one across Pletikosa from 15 yards out.
Despite having goals, tidy football and a mix of youth and experience, this game was ultimately forgettable. Both sides looked happy to go home after 90 minutes, and it was Spurs who were more intent on doing so. This reporter found himself wanting the game to end as quickly as possible.
Spurs have one less competition to worry about, Arsene Wenger can wheel out the kindergarten without getting roasted, and in a very odd way, everyone wins – the sign of a failing competition.