Van der Vaart brings Spurs back from dead to end 17-year wait

Arsenal 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3: Wenger left 'mystified' by loss after Redknapp 'goes for broke' in second half
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The Independent Football

If Rafael van der Vaart, the signing of the summer and Tottenham's player of the season, was too wily to be tempted into talking about a change in the balance of power in these parts, Spurs' manager Harry Redknapp was less diffident. After his team's extraordinary second-half recovery from 2-0 down and apparently dead, he reiterated what he had told his players after training on Friday: that this season's Premier League is the most open in memory and that Tottenham need not feel inferior in any way to the other contenders.

During that first 45 minutes, such a contention had seemed frankly laughable. Arsenal played their way with ease through the white shirts, exposing Alan Hutton at full-back and in the centre Younes Kaboul, whose partner William Gallas was facing humiliation on his return to the Emirates. Samir Nasri, who had snubbed Gallas's handshake in the pre-match formalities, scored an early goal and Marouane Chamakh doubled the lead. The surprise was that by half-time Spurs were not in as dire a predicament as in the corresponding game last season, when the damage was 3-0.

Two behind, they were able to throw on a second striker in Jermain Defoe, snatch the early goal they needed, by Gareth Bale, and build on it. Cesc Fabregas's concession of a penalty and Sébastien Squillaci's clear foul on Bale allowed the opportunity for Van der Vaart and Kaboul to bring about a first Tottenham League victory away to the old enemy since 1993.

That was not the worst of the statistics for Arsenal, who from having their noses in front of the leaders Chelsea at half-time, finished with egg on their face and Spurs on their tail. Not since the very first day of the Premier League 18 years ago had they been beaten after leading by two goals at the interval; not for 13 years had they lost two successive home games. Arsène Wenger was as perplexed by this reverse as the previous one against Newcastle, when he claimed that Andy Carroll's scoring header was the visitors' only attempt on goal.

"When you look at the figures and stats, it's a mystery how we can lose a game like that," he said of yesterday's. His best attempt at solving said mystery was: "Loss of concentration, some basic errors, a bit of bad luck, and fatigue." Add a touch of complacency – the crowd's first "oles" were to be heard in that first half – and that was enough of a recipe to cook Arsenal's goose.

"Three home defeats is three too many," Wenger admitted. (West Bromwich Albion also won here). "What's worrying for me is that we had the opportunity to go top and didn't deliver. We were always in a position to win the game and didn't do it."

That position was quickly established. Nasri, whose disaffection with Gallas goes back to Euro 2008, recovered from what he claimed was an illegal hand-off to the face by Tottenham's captain for the day to chase Fabregas's superb ball through the middle; Heurelho Gomes took a step back before falling unconvincingly at the feet of the little Frenchman, who evaded him and somehow managed to poke the ball in from the most testing of angles.

Fabregas wasted one good chance, which hardly seemed to matter when Andrey Arshavin took advantage of Hutton's injury in a classic counter-attack, crossing for Chamakh to tap in his ninth goal of the season. It was a shock when Bale matched that tally to become Spurs' leading scorer four minutes into the second half after good work by Defoe and the otherwise ineffective Roman Pavlyuchenko. Shock upon shock. Midway through the half, Fabregas put his arm up to stop Van der Vaart's powerful free-kick and could not complain at the award of a penalty, which the Dutch adventurer duly converted.

Twice in a minute Arsenal might have recovered the lead, but Gomes thwarted Fabregas with his left hand and Laurent Koscielny headed over the bar from five yards. So the scene was set for a sensation. Squillaci crashed into Bale to concede a free-kick out on the wing, swung over into just the right area by Van der Vaart for Kaboul to flick in a header off the substitute Robin van Persie.

"We started with an open team, got outnumbered in midfield and then had to go for broke," said Redknapp, who praised Gallas as his man of the match. "I feel we have closed the gap [on Arsenal] and this League is wide open. Chelsea are not as good as they were, nor are Manchester United. This is the best chance anyone's going to get so why can't we win it?"

There are reasons, evident in the first-half performance, but this day was not the time to dwell on them.

Attendance: 60,102

Referee: Phil Dowd

Man of the match: Van der Vaart

Match rating: 8/10

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