We’ve been recently inundated with endless transfer stories and engulfed with the continuing news of the Covid-19 virus. The pandemic has altered and interrupted our everyday lives including the sometimes frustrating pastime of watching Arsenal play.
Right now, I’m sure we’d all settle for a questionable draw or a sneaky 1-0 win, even if it wasn’t exactly a game crammed with slick, fast-paced, one-touch football. We are suffering withdrawal symptoms my friends and with no end in sight, not even an endless supply of ice-cold beers can fill the obvious void of not watching live or televised football.
So, by way of a temporary solution, I decided to recall much brighter times by engaging in a form of cerebral time travel to the year 2005.
It was a year that saw George Bush and Phoney Tony Blair resume their posts as leaders of their respective countries. Disneyland celebrated 50 years of fantasy for big and small children and we were also introduced to something called the Xbox 360.
At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was a magical figure with a thoroughbred side bulging with quality. Familiar and many loved names such as Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and the one and only Dennis Bergkamp.
Martin Jol welcomed the Gunners to White Hart Lane in his first North London Derby on the 13th of November 2005. It was to be a game that wasn’t the finest advertisement for the Premier League, but it certainly had enough to keep it interesting including 9 goals.
36 minutes in and Arsenal’s defence nodded off from a tame looking Michael Carrick free-kick. The entire team in red and white were guilty of ball watching as it floated high over their heads to the back post for Naybet to lash in unchallenged and put Tottenham ahead.
This is something Arsenal are guilty of today and it’s almost a trademark of Wenger’s teams who could score more than they conceded. We often used to joke that some games could end up the size of a cricket score but back then, it was possible to come back from a few goals down with just one moment of sheer brilliance or a magical touch.
Arsenal had quality all over the pitch and those in the crowd simply didn’t understand what they were watching at the time. They do now. It was an Arsenal at the peak of their powers, but the next few years ahead wouldn’t be easy for the club, fans, or their famous manager.
Back to the game and just before half time, with one added minute on the clock, Lauren punted a hopeful ball towards Henry who raced forward into the box. The Frenchman plucked the ball out of the air, bought it down, split the central defenders, and poked it low into the net. Up until that point, Henry hadn’t had a sniff of goal but back then, even a difficult half-chance had the hallmarks of a goal.
54 minutes in and Spurs’ Pamarot muscled Ljungberg to the ground with what was close to a physical assault. It was preceded by a moment of utter madness from Paul Robinson, who gifted Arsenal possession just outside his own area.
Tottenham scrambled to get the ball away and it was left to Pamarot to try to apply the breaks, but catching Freddie Ljungberg was like trying to catch smoke with a net. Up stepped Lauren to calmly stroke the ball in for a 1-2 lead.
Patrick Vieira managed to snatch Arsenal’s third (59,) when he managed to continue his run after intercepting the ball inside the Tottenham half. Vieira simply hit the accelerator and his legs rose high into the air like two mechanical pistons. He raced forward, leaving at least four defenders in his wake before nonchalantly slotting home.
Jermain Defoe decided to get Tottenham back in the game by virtually copying Vieira’s powerful run. He picked the ball up on the left, ran diagonally and into the box before unleashing a terrific shot into the top of the Arsenal net (60). Both teams had engaged in sloppy work and miserable defending, but there was more to come at both ends of the pitch.
Nine minutes later, a young prospect by the name of Cesc Fabregas put Ljungberg through with a reverse pass from a move initiated by Dennis Bergkamp. Who else. 2-4.
Ledley King popped up to head in from a long and lofted Carrick free-kick (72) with Arsenal’s defence taking another 40 winks. 3-4.
Then, Arsenal managed a slightly fortunate 5th. Ljungberg popped the ball into Henry’s path, who tried to shoot but saw it blocked. He did enough to recover the ball and thread it through to Pires in the left, who in turn shot from the tightest of angles to restore the two-goal advantage against Tottenham.
In the 87th minute, a wayward pass from a slipping Henry went straight to Ziegler. The Swiss left-back popped a ball over the top to Frédéric Kanouté who stretched his foot out to poke it in. 4-5.
Of course, a North London Derby is a game that has tremendous significance and the atmosphere has the feeling of a final but when a game is so finely balanced like this one was, a win is all the more sweeter. Coming out of the ground was a mixture of elation and relief, Arsenal had got the win, but not without inflicting the odd grey hair on their fans.
Looking back now, it was as good as it gets. You turned up to watch the best of Arsenal and even though they could be equally frustrating back then, they were the Premier League’s most entertaining side.