Gunners, the comeback artists

Updated: February 27, 2012, 4:08 PM ET
By David Hirshey | Special to

[+] EnlargeWojciech Szczesny
Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty ImagesWojciech Szczesny celebrated Arsenal's win in the tunnel after the Gunners came from behind to beat Spurs 5-2.

What just happened? How can the very essence of human existence change within a fleeting moment? And who could have guessed that my heart is connected to Theo Walcott's feet? I won't sugarcoat it, people, I was on the verge of doing myself serious bodily harm with a fork when predictably Spurs jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Of course they did. The glory days were over at the Emirates. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were gone, Jack Wilshere was still crocked, Arsene Wenger was on his way out, Arsenal would never win again and I'd have to shave off my mustache to avoid being relentlessly hounded by gleeful, heckling Spurs fans. But in less time than it takes slow waiters to bring me an omelet, the world turned upside down.

Which prompts the question: Did Wenger make a deal with Satan to turn Walcott and Tomas Rosicky into world-class players for one game in exchange for never again uttering those ridiculous words "Fourth place is a trophy"? I mean, five goals in 28 minutes against the best Spurs team in 51 years -- or the last time Spurs won anything relevant -- and you start doing the math. Let's see, the Gunners are four goals behind Milan in their Champions League tie. Seems hopeless, right? But if they can drop five on the Greatest Spurs Team In The History of The World, logic dictates that they can score at least eight against a solid but not superhero-strong Milan side. Maybe, just maybe, they still have a chance to win one of those trophies that actually have handles and that you can lift over your head rather than the metaphoric kind Wenger forever invokes to keep the vultures at bay.

Granted, I'm a bit delirious and I really don't think that Arsenal can make up the deficit against Milan and advance in the CL. Once the euphoria of the derby win dissipates, my usual pessimism will no doubt take root and I'll be expecting a home loss and Robin van Persie to fracture his ankle. But let me enjoy the moment.

After all, Arsenal fans have had so little to get giddy about this season -- other than Andrei Arshavin finally taking his I'll-run-when-I'm-in-the-mood talents back to Russia -- that we're entitled to a little joy.

And when the Gunners come back from 2-0 to lay a 5-2 beatdown on their bitter rivals on the same day that "The Artist" wins Best Picture and George Clooney loses to some unknown French guy with bad teeth who says only two words in the entire movie, then you know the end of the world is nigh. And not a minute too soon. In fact, let the Mayan apocalypse happen right now. Because, while none of this changes the fact Tottenham is still seven points ahead of Arsenal in the table and will probably finish above the Gunners for the first time in 17 years, I want to meet my maker confident in the knowledge that Spurs is second best in North London.

And now that we've witnessed the most one-sided victory in this derby since the height of the Bee Gees' popularity, be honest. Was there a rational Arsenal fan alive (wait, is that an oxymoron?) who didn't dread this game? We all knew we were going to lose, we just hoped we wouldn't get totally embarrassed. Spurs, third in the table, was coming off a five-goal drubbing of Newcastle United and was playing the kind of stylish, attacking soccer that once upon a time was the hallmark of Wenger's Arsenal teams.

No wonder that Spurs swaggered into the Emirates on Sunday led by the next England manager who is looking more and more like he belongs in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Any Redknappian hubris was understandable: Even though Spurs' away form against big clubs has been erratic this season (both sides of Manchester feasted on it up north), it was facing an Arsenal team spiraling into a never-before-visited-concentric circle of Dante's "Inferno." Fresh off the back of a 4-0 intestinal gutting at the feet of Milan, the Gunners followed up their continental disaster with a domestic sequel, crashing out of the FA Cup at Sunderland, the only remaining competition in which they had a chance to end the tedious saga of their six-year title drought.

Worse, Arsenal could no longer blame all its troubles on Arshavin now that the Russian pixie had been loaned out to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Not that Wenger flinched under the pressure, favoring the seldom-used Israeli Yossi Benayoun to Ivorian speed merchant and proud forehead model Gervinho in his starting lineup, though when Arsenal fell behind 2-0 inside of 35 minutes and was seemingly destined for yet another eight-spot, I don't recall seeing many signs in the crowd proclaiming "In Arsene We Trust."

The first goal, so early that many Gooners had yet to settle in with their Chardonnay, was typically Charmin-soft: Louis Saha was ushered gently toward goal by Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs, given all the time he needed to deflect a shot past the wrong-footed Wojciech Szczesny and agonizingly over the line. Half an hour later, Gareth "The Welsh Submarine" Bale -- the only Prem player to have been carded for two simulations this season -- tumbled under the heavy breath of Arsenal's charging keeper and duped referee Mike Dean into awarding a penalty kick that Emmanuel Adebayor converted with insulting ease. Mercifully, though, Ade simply stood there in Balotellian-like pomp, eschewing the kind of defiant knee-sliding celebration that so endeared him to the Emirates faithful when he scored after being loaned to Manchester City.

[+] EnlargeGareth Bale
Ian Kington/Getty ImagesThe call in question: Gareth Bale earned a penalty, but on replay it appeared that no contact was made.

And yet, galvanized by their sense of injustice or possibly the belated discovery of soccer cojones that have been on an extended holiday, the Gunners clawed their way back from the dead like Rick Santorum.

From a left-flank cross, Bacary Sagna powered home a header to make it 2-1. Barely three minutes later, van Persie showed why Arsenal fans can't sleep without drugs at night, so jangled are they by the thought of the Dutchman leaving after another trophy-less season. (Thoughtfully, RvP delayed his contract extension until the summer, as if we weren't anxious enough.) With four Spurs defenders closing in on him, he found a sliver of space in which to shift the ball from his right to his left foot and curl a sick shot beyond the flailing arms of Brad Friedel into the left corner. By the way, how can Friedel still be playing so well? He's so old I can't even remember when he had hair.

With the score level, the camera panned to Harry Redknapp, who looked like he had been jolted awake from his England daydreams: "I gotta get that England job. At least then no one will expect me to win." Let's just hope that when Harry does get the England job, he doesn't give them the same Churchillian halftime speech in Poland or the Ukraine -- cause it really didn't work very well.

Despite shoring up his midfield with Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart, Redknapp did very little after intermission but sit there slack-jawed, looking like a half-melted human candle as Arsenal tore Spurs apart in the attacking third.

[+] EnlargeRobin van Persie
Clive Mason/Getty ImagesRobin van Persie scored the game's most eye-catching goal, but credit also goes to the likes of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Bacary Sagna.

Three goals, including two by The Former Waste of Pace known as Theo Walcott? Next thing you'll be telling me that Stewart Downing had a big game for Liverpool in the Carling Cup. Walcott was true to form for most of the first half, his touch heavy, his decision-making woeful, his speed unallied to technique. In short, he embodied everything that had gone wrong with Wenger's noble youth project, far too precocious to thrive in an aggressive, physical league like the EPL. But in the second half, with the terrier-like midfield duo of Scott Parker and Luka Modric subdued by early yellow cards, Walcott found space on the flank and ran riot, stretching the play by cutting inside and allowing Sagna to gallop down the line. And if Walcott showing composure and precision in the box was a revelation, then what do you call Rosicky, the glass-skeleton "Little Mozart" who has played more like "Little Bieber" in the past couple of seasons?

Not only did Rosicky score his first goal in 50 games and outduel the Croatian maestro Modric, he along with Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Benayoun outpassed and outfought their more celebrated midfield counterparts, their domination completed by Parker's frustrated second yellow card-inducing hack three minutes from time.

So did Arsenal pull its season out of the fire on the same day that Liverpool finally began re-stocking its trophy shelf? Is this the beginning of a magical turnaround for both storied clubs or just another false dawn? Will Walcott and Rosicky maintain their newfound hero status or disappear, as is their wont, from the next game? Will Downing & Co. use the Carling Cup win to slingshot themselves to a top-four berth? Are both clubs going to be OK now?

Um … sadly not. Because regardless of how well Sunday turned out, Arsenal plays at Anfield next weekend. And whatever the result, I can guarantee one thing: By next Monday, either the Gunners or the Reds will be heading right back into the swirling toilet of despair.

David Hirshey has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and has written about the sport for The New York Times, Time, ESPN The Magazine and Deadspin. He is the co-author of "The ESPN World Cup Companion" and played himself (almost convincingly) in the acclaimed soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime."