LONDON, England – Theo Walcott rescued Arsenal’s nine-year unbeaten run against north London rivals Tottenham and left their Carling Cup semifinal dramatically poised at 1-1 ahead of the second leg at White Hart Lane.
But Spurs will have left the Emirates believing they should finally have broken the hoodoo that has now seen them go 21 matches against the Gunners without a win.
Jermaine Jenas gave them the reward for a positive first half display with a goal after 37 minutes — and that was the way it stayed until Walcott’s somewhat fortuitous equalizer.
Second half substitute Eduardo played Walcott through — and when he was tackled by Lee Young-Pyo the ball ricocheted off Walcott’s stomach and past keeper Radek Cerny.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believed his youngsters were still feeling the effects of their FA Cup exertions at the weekend.
“We suffered tonight, we had to give a lot on Sunday at Burnley and had not recovered completely,” he told Sky Sports. “But we still came back under difficult circumstances.
“Tottenham played well but we came back, which gives us confidence. When they scored we had a mental blow and struggled to recover from that. But for me it’s a positive result.”
Wenger vowed to resist the temptation to recall his first-choice stars for the return. “We have made decisions that will stand for the second leg,” he added. “I’m convinced we can do it”
Tottenham’s Spanish coach Juande Ramos has carved out something of a reputation as a cup expert — and he pinned his faith in Czech Cerny after deciding to drop Paul Robinson.
Robinson, whose blunders saw his club draw against Reading in the FA Cup, was forced to watch the action from the bench — having also been axed by England for the final Euro 2008 qualifier.
Spurs faced a similar ‘second-string’ line-up as took Arsenal to the final last season — and their average age was 21 and a half.
The Gunners’ youngsters took out Spurs at the semifinal stage then — and they had already accounted for Newcastle, Sheffield United and Blackburn this campaign.
Arsenal started well enough, and Cerny was called into action in the 14th minute when Nicklas Bendtner met Justin Hoyte’s cross — the keeper blocking for a fine save in only his fifth outing of the campaign.
But Tottenham were proving a different proposition under Ramos and Steed Malbranque spurned two chances in as many minutes as their experience began to show.
Malbranque should have made the breakthrough after 33 minutes, but he missed the target from inside the area with most of the goal gaping open.
And next minute he headed wide after Robbie Keane lifted a cross to the far post.
Spurs were not made to wait much longer for the opener which came after Dimitar Berbatov latched onto Johan Djourou’s poor clearance and found Keane.
The Republic of Ireland international squared to Jenas and the flag stayed down as the England midfielder applied the simple finish.