Rants and musings from the magazine team
Tottenham edged out north London rivals Arsenal 2-1 in a crunch derby clash on Sunday at White Hart Lane, with two quick-fire goals in the first-half proving enough to claim all three points. The result moves Spurs back up to third place ahead of Chelsea, and leaves the Gunners five points adrift of the Champions League qualification places. Although there is still a lot of football left to be played this term, the game showed us a number of things about these bitter rivals.
Tottenham are mentally tougher
Tottenham struck quickly and decisively towards the end of what had been a relatively even first half to give themselves a solid 2-0 lead at the break. But they will have had the previous two North London derbies in mind, when they threw away 1-0 and 2-0 leads to ultimately twice be thumped 5-2 by the Gunners.
When Per Mertesacker's deflected effort found the back of Hugo Lloris' goal after 51 minutes, Spurs looked in trouble and in the past may well have wilted under Arsenal pressure. However this time a stern defensive effort and the tireless work-rate of all the players allowed them to close the game out.
Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen must receive plaudits for their steadfast efforts in the Tottenham backline, but the whole side showed a mental toughness to stand up and fight when under pressure. Harry Redknapp's teams, as talented as they were, at times lacked this stubbornness; Andre Villas-Boas has seemingly instilled a dogged outlook on what used to be an unpredictable Spurs side.
Arsenal's defensive frailties persist
Arsenal looked to play a high line to deny Spurs' attacking players space, but were punished for a lack of concentration and organisation in the first half. The Gunners were given a warning early in the encounter when Gylfi Sigurdsson cut in from the left and overhit a through-ball to the onrushing Gareth Bale, but the visitors did not learn their lesson.
Later in the half, the Icelandic midfielder found himself in a similar position, with Bale making an almost identical run. Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker failed to organise their back four to play an effective offside trap, and Sigurdsson this time played his pass to perfection, enabling the Welshman to open the scoring. With a similar move resulting in the second Spurs goal soon after - Scott Parker feeding Aaron Lennon this time - the softness at the heart of Arsenal's rearguard was shockingly exposed.
Jack Wilshere is fighting a lonely battle
Arsenal probably just edged the first 30 minutes of the game and had more of the ball in the second half after Mertesacker's goal, however the Gunners failed to create many clear-cut chances for their forward players. Despite neat interplay, it looked like the Gunners lacked a clinical pass in the last third to get the goals they needed to get back in the game.
Jack Wilshere was once again his side's standout player, as he battled Mousa Dembele and Scott Parker diligently, and looked to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Despite excellent box-to-box runs, winning back possession and neat footwork, it looked at times like Arsenal did not have the players around the England international to make the most of his individual ability.
Tottenham are not a one-man team
Much of the pre-match build-up to the game surrounded Gareth Bale, and rightly so given his recent excellent form and goalscoring exploits. Arsene Wenger however refused to change his tactics to try to shackle the Welshman and declined to deploy a man marker on the attacker.
Despite scoring the all-important first goal for Spurs with a deft run and ruthless finish, Bale was very quiet in the first-half and had little part to play in the game. He was more involved in the second 45, but still did not show a performance of the scintillating standards that has resulted in such acclaim of late.
On the day, Tottenham's other flying winger Aaron Lennon actually looked like more of a threat than his illustrious team-mate, and the combined team effort to win the game, with Jan Vertonghen picking up the man-of-the-match award. Bale may well be the team's most high-profile player, but he is not the only one of top quality.
The race for the top four is far from over
While some Spurs fans will doubtless claim their team's victory over Arsenal signifies a power shift in North London, their celebrations shouldn't get out of control just yet.
Yes, Tottenham have made a once one-sided derby much more competitive, and on current form look like a more rounded and better team than Arsenal, but with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City still to play - not to mention their ongoing Europa League campaign - Spurs are by no means guaranteed a place in the top four. Similar gutsy performances to the one on Sunday are needed to ensure a place in next term's Champions League, in what is set to be a close race for qualification.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have a more favourable run-in than their neighbours, and despite Sunday's defeat, Wenger will be confident of his side picking up points against the weaker teams in the division. The Gunners’ revival towards the end of last term, when they closed an even more sizeable gap, will also still be in the minds of both clubs. Arsenal must aim to crank up the pressure on their rivals once again.
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