HARRY Redknapp’s CV took a real hit yesterday as Arsenal produced a sensational comeback to inflict Tottenham’s biggest north London derby defeat since 1978.
Spurs looked certain to enhance Redknapp’s England credentials by making him their first manager for 86 years to win away against the Gunners for two successive seasons and first to do the double over them for 19.
But, in a complete reversal of last season’s corresponding fixture, Tottenham threw away a two-goal lead to concede five at Arsenal for the first time since 1934.
Arsenal looked all over the place at the back as Spurs raced to a two-goal lead through Louis Saha and an Emmanuel Adebayor penalty.
However, captain Robin Van Persie refused to accept defeat, helping his side score twice in three minutes to go in level by half-time, netting the equaliser after Bacary Sagna pulled a goal back.
Arsenal – who leapfrogged Chelsea back into fourth in the Barclays Premier League – were rampant after the break, Tomas Rosicky completing the comeback, and Theo Walcott scoring twice before Scott Parker was sent off to compound Tottenham’s misery. After the game, a chastened Redknapp said: “Even at 2-0, I couldn’t say I felt over-comfortable.”
The Spurs manager, who had to listen to taunts of “Harry for England” from Gunners fans, added: “I wanted to get to half-time [at 2-0] but I felt they were creating chances and we looked a bit open really.
“It was a difficult one. I felt at half-time I needed to try to thicken us up a little bit.
“That should have happened, but didn’t. We didn’t defend well. It was basic, really.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “It was a performance full of everything you want from your team.
“It had team spirit, technique, resilience. It was an exciting game, we had a difficult start but kept going and showed great character again today,” he told Sky Sports News.
“When you’re 2-0 down against a team in front of you with the quality they have, you need something exceptional. We refused to lose today, we kept going and in the end I think we had too much quality and drive.”
Asked if it is still a foregone conclusion that Spurs will finish ahead of them in the league, Wenger said: “I don’t think so. Mathematically we can come back.
“If we’re consistent, anything is possible.”
It looked like being so different after four minutes, when Arsenal’s shambolic defending from the 4-0 defeat at the hands of AC Milan 11 days before resurfaced.
Former Gunners striker Adebayor played the ball into a space for Saha to run into, with Thomas Vermaelen’s lame block only succeeding in deflecting the Frenchman’s shot over the stranded Wojciech Szczensy On 32 minutes, Gareth Bale was under all sorts of pressure from Kieran Gibbs and threw himself to the floor under what looked no contact from Szczensy.
Adebayor kept his cool to rub salt into the wound but wisely chose not to celebrate.
Arsenal’s rally began five minutes before the break. Van Persie was desperately unlucky to hit the post before Mikel Arteta sent the ball back in and Sagna powered home a header.
Three minutes later, Arsenal’s Dutch skipper swept a Benoit Assou-Ekotto clearance past Spurs keeper Brad Friedel and into the net for the equaliser.
Rosicky made it 3-2 in the 51st minute, playing a one-two with Sagna before poking in the latter’s deflected cross.
As in the first half, the Gunners scored twice in three minutes to kill the game.
It was a brilliant counter-attack that brought the 65th-minute fourth goal, Yossi Benayoun releasing Van Persie, who held off Ledley King and Younes Kaboul before squaring for the onrushing Walcott to clip the ball over Friedel.
It was Tottenham’s defence that was now all over the place, and Kaboul played Walcott onside, the winger racing onto Alex Song’s pass and finding the bottom corner in the 68th minute.