Classic matches revisited: Tottenham Hotspur 4-5 Arsenal - A North London classic in a drab season

With the football season back underway, the eyes of fans are going to eagerly await local derbies, the games that epitomise the passion and pressure that makes the Premier League, to many, the best league in the world. With the first North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur not until mid-November and Arsenal’s trip to Wembley to face Spurs not until February, now seems to be a good time to revisit one of the most thrilling North London derbies in history.

It's mid November 2004, and Arsenal were reigning Premier League champions after their Invincible season. Yet the celebrations that surrounded Arsenal’s incredible feat, which may never be repeated, were over.

Only three weeks previously, the Gunners’ 49-game unbeaten run had come to an end at Old Trafford against Manchester United. The game, nicknamed by many as “The Battle of the Buffet” warrants a place as a classic match in itself but it heralded the end of one of English football’s greatest ever periods of one club success.

With the unbeaten run over, a deflated Arsenal headed to White Hart Lane, where a 2-2 draw in April had secured the club’s thirteenth English top flight title, made even sweeter by winning it at the home of their rivals for the second time.

Spurs had also had an inconsistent start to the season, culminating in their new manager Jacques Santini resigning from his job just 13 games into the season, he had only won five. Dutchman Martin Jol replaced the Frenchman as Spurs boss, and his first game in charge was this North London derby; not exactly the easiest of managerial debuts. Spurs went into the match on a run of four consecutive defeats.

Henry cancels out Naybet in tense first half

The game started slowly and was a cagey affair. The term “goals change games” seems to have been written for this game, because when the first was scored, the game became much more fluid and open. The opener came, surprisingly, for Spurs in the 37th minute. Michael Carrick’s free kick from the edge of the area went deep into the box, and with a slight flick on from Ledley King, the ball fell to the back post and to Noureddine Naybet, who tucked away the chance.

It was to be the 6ft Moroccan’s first and only goal for Spurs, and in any straightforward North London derby, what a time to get it.

But this game was not any old straightforward North London derby. With the Spurs fans still celebrating and the board going up for one minute of stoppage time, Lauren put a great ball forward from close to the halfway line into the Spurs box and it found the player that any Arsenal player would want their ball into the box to find.

Thierry Henry took two touches and finished with style, and Arsenal were on level terms just before half time.

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Poor Spurs defending lets the game explode into life

This derby match is one that can truly be seen as a game of two halves. The second half did not have the cagey start and atmosphere of the first. Within the first ten minutes of the second half, Spurs’ defence already looked to be cracking under the pressure.

An Arsneal free kick, conceded by Noe Paramot from a foul on Jose Antonio Reyes, was whipped in from the right hand side and found Freddie Ljungberg on the edge of the area, but his headed effort is safely caught by Paul Robinson. A confused, wayward throw out from Robinson however gave Arsenal the chance to attack again.

Ljungberg with the ball ran into the box and was brought down by Pamarot for an Arsenal penalty. Lauren took the chance to turn the game around, sending Robinson the wrong way and giving Arsenal a 2-1 lead at White Hart Lane.

Two goals in two minutes keeps fans on the edge of their seats

Just five minutes later Patrick Vieira intercepted a Spurs pass in the middle third and broke through the defence. Through on goal, Vieira kept his composure and smashed past Robinson to make it 3-1 and give Arsenal a great foothold in the game.

Just a minute later Martin Tyler would exclaim “it wasn’t three-one for long!”, and how right has was. Jermaine Defoe broke forward and unleashed a powerful, curling shot from just inside the eighteen-yard box, which Jens Lehmann could do nothing about. As soon as Arsenal had been seen to put the game to bed, Spurs had woken it up again.

A moment of Fábregas magic puts Arsenal in control

Arsenal pushed for a fourth goal to restore their two goal advantage, and with the help of a young Spaniard, the two-goal advantage was restored in less than ten minutes. The Spurs defence missed the chance to clear and the ball broke forward to Cesc Fábregas, who on the edge of the area is surrounded by Spurs players and looks to have little opportunity to make something happen.

Even then, however, the La Masia graduate was seeing passes that other players couldn’t, and he slid in a great reverse ball to Ljungberg, who did really well to stay onside, and coolly finished.

With fifteen minutes left, Carrick whipped another great delivery into the opposition penalty area and Ledley King was able to get between the Arsenal defence and head in Spurs’ third.

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Arsenal hold on in grand finale

Arsenal weren’t finished yet though, with a great run forward by Ljungberg culminating in a great into the box pass to Henry.

Erik Edman got in a great tackle on Henry to prevent his shot, but Henry was able to slide the ball into Robert Pirés, who with a beautiful piece of footwork, sending the defender one way and then the other, was able to get into a position to score. Despite the tight angle, Pirés put away the chance to make it 5-3, and with less than ten minutes left seemingly put the game to bed for Arsenal.

Frederic Kanouté was able to put in one more for Spurs to set up a grand finale that would never come. Arsenal held on, and won the game 5-4.

The aftermath

Despite showing both quality and huge strength of character in the derby win, Arsenal were unable to retain the title. They would go on to finish second, twelve points behind the champions Chelsea, losing five times, something that they were not used to after their Invincible season the year before.

Arsenal did however manage to win the FA Cup that season, beating Manchester United on penalties in the first final to go to a shootout. Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty, avenging the memories of the game that had ended their unbeaten run all those months previously.

Spurs’ season did not have that success; they finished ninth under Martin Jol, missing out on a place in Europe. Not exactly the most successful season for either club, but a game that lives on in the memories of the football fan.


This article is part of a regular series, 'Classic Matches Revisited'. Check out last week's entry, from the final stages of the greatest relegation escape in Premier League history, here.