The wait is most emphatically over: after eight years, 76 days and a whole heap of pain Tottenham have beaten Arsenal at last. And they did not just beat them but turned their rivals into a squabbling, humiliated mess who left the pitch arguing among themselves while Juande Ramos' team celebrated a place in the Carling Cup final.
If you asked a Tottenham fan to sketch out his perfect evening then it would probably look like last night's events: the first win over the old rivals since 7 November 1999 and insurrection in the Arsenal ranks. Emmanuel Adebayor clashed with Nicklas Bendtner, Arsenal's defence collapsed and Arsène Wenger was at his ungracious worst afterwards. This was the great Arsenal project gone haywire.
It is not since 2002 that Tottenham have reached a final – in this competition – and not since 1999 has the old song about Spurs being on their way to Wembley reverberated around N17. The good times rolled at White Hart Lane and one man above all deserved the credit. In a pulsating cup tie, Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque scored the goals, but it was Ramos who masterminded the whole show.
Three Spurs managers have come and gone without beating Arsenal since George Graham last achieved it and yet Ramos has pulled it off at the third time of asking. There is a lot to like about this reserved, intense man. He left the celebrations to his players and instead stood on the touchline in contemplation of a job well done. Like any decent manager his mind was on the next test: Chelsea and Everton play tonight for a place in the final on 24 February.
As the Spurs players embarked on their lap of honour it was noticeable the out-of-favour goalkeeper Paul Robinson was nowhere to be seen. It was a pity that the man who has been demoted could not bring himself to celebrate with his team-mates and fans – whatever his personal disappointments – but there are always some for whom no triumph can be enjoyed unless they figure prominently themselves.
A lot has changed since Ramos took charge of his first game in October, a Carling Cup fourth-round game against Blackpool. Certainly, Tottenham look a better organised, more confident team – however hard Wenger found that to admit. It helped that Dimitar Berbatov was on song last night and even he found it tricky to maintain his usual studied aspect of indifference as Spurs celebrated.
Tottenham played football the Arsenal way: on the break and devil-may-care. Wenger's young players tried to play in the manner of their seniors but they were undermined by relying on an attack made up of Bendtner and Theo Walcott which never clicked. The Englishman is only 18 and he deserves time but he will wince when he reads Wenger's comments about certain players not being "completely ready" for this level. The same goes for Bendtner.
It will be a matter of some embarrassment that Arsenal's young guns did not just collapse, they turned on each other. Bendtner is known as an occasionally difficult character and he and Adebayor clashed even before Malbranque had added the fifth for Spurs. When things go wrong for Arsenal, they do so in the most spectacular terms.
That aside, this was still some game – an English cup tie in every respect. The gamble Wenger took in picking a weakened team was misjudged. Two minutes gone and Spurs were ahead, the beneficiaries of an Arsenal team who looked hopelessly disorganised in centre midfield.
Berbatov flicked the ball to Jenas and, as he ran into the inside-right channel in front of the Arsenal box, the tide parted for him. By the time any player in red had thought to close down Jenas, he cracked a low shot across the face of the Lukasz Fabianski's goal and into the far left corner.
Even before he clashed with Adebayor it was to get worse for Bendtner. On 26 minutes the Danish international was marking Michael Dawson when Jenas struck a free-kick into the Arsenal box; under pressure from the Spurs defender, Bendtner headed past his own keeper.
An edge of doubt will have crept into the home support on 29 minutes when Berbatov was given the chance effectively to seal the win. No one else but the Bulgarian could have looked more assured as he ran on to Jenas's throughball. He hit a shot that beat Fabianski but hit the post.
Half-time came and none of Wenger's big guns were summoned from the bench; two minutes of the second half gone and it was virtually all over anyway. A flick from Berbatov, an immaculately struck pass from Lennon and Keane charged through the Arsenal defence. Spurs goal No 101 for Keane could hardly have been more memorable even if Fabianski could have done better.
Bendtner hit the bar before goal No 4, which was another fine move. Lennon and Keane exchanged passes and the winger tucked the ball home. An hour gone and only at 4-0 did Wenger summon Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva from the bench. With 20 minutes left Adebayor struck a beauty from the edge of the area to beat Cerny.
Even then, a glance up at the scoreboard was enough to settle White Hart Lane's nerves. Leading 4-1 and with Adebayor risking a second yellow card in his ruck with Bendtner, Spurs were home and dry even before Malbranque's last-minute tap-in capped it all.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cerny; Chimbonda, Dawson, King, Lee; Lennon (Huddlestone, 74), Jenas, Tainio, Malbranque; Keane (Boateng, 64), Berbatov (Defoe, 64). Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), O'Hara.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski; Sagna, J Hoyte, Gallas, Traoré, (Eduardo, 65); Hleb, Denilson (Fabregas, 18) Gilberto, Diaby; Walcott (Adebayor, 65), Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Flamini.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).Reuse content