Theo Walcott double caps sensational derby win as Gunners seal comeback from two goals down
The winger helped the hosts move back into fourth spot at the Emirates after further goals from Rosicky, Sagna and Van Persie turned a stunning north London derby on its head
Arsenal staged a stunning comeback from two goals down to thrash bitter rivals Tottenham 5-2 at Emirates Stadium to reclaim fourth spot in the Premier League table.
The Gunners closed the gap to their north London neighbours to seven points with a victory that looked highly improbable after Louis Saha and former Arsenal man Emmanuel Adebayor put the visitors into a two-goal lead.
But Arsene Wenger’s men, under so much pressure, showed remarkable character to stage a stirring fightback and beat Spurs for the first time in five league meetings, providing a massive boost in their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Bacary Sagna headed Arsenal back into the game before captain Robin van Persie struck superbly from 20 yards to make the score 2-2 at half-time. In a breathless second-half, Tomas Rosicky stabbed the hosts ahead before Theo Walcott capped the turnaround with two precise finishes.
To complete a miserable afternoon for Spurs, Scott Parker was sent-off three minutes from time for a second booking, a rash challenge on Vermaelen after he had booked in the first-half for a late tackle on Van Persie.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sprung a surprise with his team selection, with Yossi Benayoun starting in midfield instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain while Kieran Gibbs started at right-back in place of the injured Per Mertesacker.
For Spurs, Adebayor was recalled to lead the line against his former club, with Younes Kaboul selected ahead of Michael Dawson to partner Ledley King in central defence.
Arsenal came into the game off the back all successive defeats to AC Milan and Sunderland - and they made the worst possible start as their bitter rivals took the lead after just four minutes.
A flowing move including Gareth Bale and Adebayor ended with Saha being sent clear as the Arsenal defence parted. The Frenchman appeared to have delayed too long before shooting, but his effort from just inside the penalty area took a huge deflection off Vermaelen and looped into the net.
Signs of discontent were evident in the Gunners crowd but the hosts responded strongly and should have equalised when the ball fell kindly for Van Persie but the Dutchman somehow shot wide of the post from 10 yards.
Arsenal were knocking on the door and once again thought they had equalised in the 22nd minute, but Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel defied his 40 years with a superb reaction save to keep out Rosicky’s glancing header from Van Persie’s corner.
At the other end, Harry Redknapp’s side served a reminder of their goal threat as Kyle Walker smashed a rocket just wide of the post following yet more confusion in the Arsenal penalty area.
In the 34th minute, Arsenal were punished for their lax defending when referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty after Bale went to ground, perhaps rather easily, under a challenge from Gibbs. Adebayor kept his cool to convert from the spot.
It seemed to stir Arsenal into action, the point from which the fear escaped from the Gunners players who have been so derided in the last couple of weeks. All of a sudden, one attack pulsed after another and Arsenal showed incredible spirit to fight back and draw the score level in three incredible minutes just before half-time.
Tottenham, perhaps too relaxed on their two-goal advantage, failed to react after Van Persie struck the post from a tight angle and Bacary Sagna was on hand to head home Mikel Arteta’s cross to put the hosts back in the game.
Three minutes later, a moment of genius levelled the scoreline. After picking up a poor clearance from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Van Persie manipulated a yard of space before expertly curling the ball into the corner from 20 yards past the despairing Friedel.
The hosts started in similar fashion after the break, Yossi Benayoun almost immediately forcing Friedel into a fingertip save as he attempted to stroke the ball into the net from the left side of the penalty box.
And six minutes after the re-start, Arsenal took the lead through Rosicky. The Czech midfielder timed his run to perfection to flick home Sagna’s cross from the right.
The Arsenal swagger of old was back, as if from nowhere. “Harry for England,” chanted the home fans, taunting the Spurs manager.
Redknapp would have wanted the ground to swallow him up as the Gunners applied their boot to Tottenham’s neck. Walcott made it four in the 65th minute, racing through and clipping the ball into the net.
Three minutes later he was gifted acres of space to fire across Friedel and low into the corner: 5-2.
It is Tottenham who have been known for clawing back two-goal deficits in this fixture in recent years, but this was Arsenal’s turn.
A miserable afternoon for Spurs was completed in the 87th minute when Parker was shown red for a second booking, a clumsy challenge on Vermaelen.
The Spurs midfielder had no arguments with the referee’s decision. And his team could have no arguments with the result.