The Beast is back - and when it comes to the Carling Cup, Julio Baptista seems determined to win it for Arsenal on his own. The Brazilian who saves his best moments for English football's most derided competition scored an own goal and then put two past Tottenham as his side launched a thrilling semi-final first-leg comeback against their deadliest rivals.
After four goals at Anfield in the previous round, the Brazilian striker with the look of a heavyweight prizefighter may have imagined that topping that performance would be tricky. Leading Arsène Wenger's young charges at White Hart Lane to a comeback that broke Spurs' hearts, however, has made the man they call "the Beast" an iconic figure at his new club.
Wenger may be moulding a new generation of players in the Carling Cup this season but he is also giving the competition a new, intriguing relevance. The Arsenal manager stuck with the talented young team who dispatched Liverpool 6-3, against a full-strength Tottenham side and, to adapt an old saying, he seems to be determined to prove that you can win the Carling Cup with kids.
By half-time it looked like Wenger's side would succumb to Tottenham, two goals down to the north London rivals who have not beaten them since 1999 in any competition. Baptista's clumsy own goal had followed a header from Dimitar Berbatov that appeared to have exerted Tottenham's control over the tie. By the end, though, there was no doubt that the advantage in the second leg at the Emirates next Wednesday will be with Arsenal.
Baptista's two goals made for a painful conclusion for Martin Jol, who was left in no doubt as to the anger of the Tottenham fans who had been subjected to a collapse of nerve from their team. Abuse was aimed at the Tottenham manager from around the dug-out, after he was outmanoeuvred by Wenger, who changed the game by introducing Alexander Hleb and Emmanuel Eboué.
Arsenal perhaps could be forgiven for their slow start after their team coach was caught in traffic on its way from their training ground at London Colney en route to White Hart Lane. A 45-minute journey took an hour longer than planned and Wenger complained that they had received "no help from the police" - the kick-off was delayed for 30 minutes.
It was Baptista, on loan from Real Madrid with an option for the move to become permanent in the summer, to whom Wenger paid the greatest tribute, a player who, despite his injury problems, the Arsenal manager said had remained "mentally strong".
"He scored an own goal in the first half but he is a mentally strong player," Wenger said. "It has taken some time to adapt from Spain but he has enough strength to cope."
In the first half, Tottenham proved that they have some good young players too and none more so than Aaron Lennon, who had an exceptional game. The England winger tore past both Abou Diaby and Armand Traoré, he drifted inside and was still breaking down Arsenal's left flank in the game's closing stages.
In the first half, Theo Walcott cut a lonely figure out on Arsenal's right wing until the later stages. This was not the same free-running assault on the opposition that Arsenal launched at Anfield and their confidence was crushed by a goal in the 11th minute from Berbatov.
The Bulgarian limped off within seven minutes of scoring but for the home support he had already done his duty. Jermain Defoe had jinked back and forth in the right-wing position and found the space to put in a cross that Manuel Almunia hesitated for as he came out to claim it. Berbatov nodded it in.
Tom Huddlestone paced his team's attacks nicely in midfield and it was noticeable that as he found less and less of the ball, Tottenham struggled more. They scored their second goal when Huddlestone struck a low free-kick from the left that Baptista misjudged. He deflected the ball past his own goalkeeper with his heel. It took Wenger less than an hour before he resolved to introduce some of his more experienced players to force the issue. First Hleb, then Eboué came on and their effect was evident. The first goal from Baptista on 63 minutes came when the Brazilian regained his footing and picked up the loose ball to force it past Paul Robinson. The England goalkeeper was at fault for the equaliser, too. He came too far out to the left when Cesc Fabregas set Justin Hoyte free down the wing and the full-back crossed for Baptista to score. Losing Hleb to a thigh injury was Wenger's only complaint - after Robin van Persie's broken foot they can ill afford more casualties. "You've got your Tottenham back," sang the away fans.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Gardner, Assou-Eskotto; Lennon, Zokora, Huddlestone, Malbranque; Defoe (Mido, 80), Berbatov (Keane, 17). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Lee, Ghaly.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Hoyte, Touré, Senderos, Traoré; Walcott, Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby (Hleb, 56; Flamini, 80); Baptista, Aliadière (Eboué, 60). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Randall.
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).Reuse content