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Tottenham Hotspur 2 Arsenal 1: match report

Read a full match report of the Premier League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Sunday Oct 2 2011.


Mother Nature really has been at the sherry: a heatwave in October and a cockerel crowing at dusk. As the sweat dripped from Spur and Arsenal players during a game long on endeavour if largely short on skill, the natural order of north London life was turned upside down.

The Premier League table will make particularly painful viewing for Arsenal on Monday; at 15th, they are the lowest placed of the capital’s clubs, two points off the relegation positions and 12 points behind the leaders. Arsenal are so far back, it is like finding Joan Collins in economy.

It encapsulated the desperation flooding through Arsenal that the purists’ club ended playing long ball towards Per Mertesacker, their German centre-half pushed into attack. Mertesacker is no Thomas Müller, let alone Gerd. Injuries have badly depleted Arsène Wenger’s squad but enough talent surely remained. Sadly for Arsenal, the likes of Theo Walcott and Gervinho failed to rise to the derby occasion.

Andrei Arshavin, unfortunately for his admirers, continued his ‘tourist in London’ routine.

The few visitors to emerge with any credit were Wojciech Szczesny, even with one howler, Alex Song, who again deputised in defence while being badly missed in midfield, and the promising French Under-20 international Francis Coquelin. Arsenal need more belief now as well as more high-class recruits in January.

Harry Redknapp’s three summer signings all impressed: Brad Friedel was a calm presence in goal, Scott Parker was tireless in midfield while Emmanuel Adebayor chased every ball in attack. Elsewhere Gareth Bale came alive when poor Bacary Sagna was carted away to hospital, his ankle feared broken.

This was the derby that allowed Spurs fans to scream they are now north London’s top team. This was also the derby that saw fans scream all manner of abuse. Arsenal fans mocked the hosts with “61, never again”, goading about Spurs’

title-free half-century. Supporters traded suggestions about each other relocating to Stratford or Woolwich. And these were the polite songs.

Adebayor had to endure Arsenal invective about his nearly being shot in Angola. Spurs fans aired their dirty ditty about Wenger. Even the Spurs-supporting Only Fools and Horses actor Roger Lloyd-Pack, interviewed on the pitch at half-time, received a toxic serenade.

“Trigger, Trigger, you’re a —-” came the reception from the away end. It was enough to make Del Boy fall through an open hatch.

Accompanying the noxious noises off was another local passion play, another intense encounter largely devoid of bad challenges. Only when the South Stand net required emergency stitching, delaying the second half, could it be called a needle match. Only when Wenger refused to shake Clive Allen’s hand did the rivalry between the football staffs spill over. Maybe Wenger simply had a keen sense of history and remembered the last time an Arsenal manager shook hands with Allen, the striker promptly disappeared to Crystal Palace.

As at the final whistle, Wenger had hardly ended the first half in a good mood. He was enraged by a belief that Rafael van der Vaart’s goal, the 10,000th in Spurs’ history, was aided by a hand-ball.

Whatever the legitimacy of his argument, and a series of replays still could not provide proof, Wenger needed to look also at his midfield and defence.

Jermain Defoe was allowed to turn and dart through the middle before slipping the ball right to Adebayor. Arsenal’s old striker calmly chipped the ball across to Van der Vaart, who controlled the ball with his chest, possibly his upper arm, before sending it left-footed past Szczesny. Sagna and Mertesacker resembled policemen arriving too late to apprehend him.

Wenger bemoaned the goal, his frustration intensified by the reality that Arsenal had done well until then. They had their chances, Aaron

Ramsey’s flicked header being cleared by Luka Modric. Robin van Persie glided in from the left, eluding Younes Kaboul before rolling the ball back to Gervinho, who fired wide. Not for the last time, Kyle Walker screamed at Van der Vaart to cover back.

Arsenal looked good, far more confident than recently, and helped by their extra man in the centre, Coquelin supporting Mikel Arteta and Ramsey. Parker accepted the challenge posed by the opposition, working overtime, one moment bustling into the box and testing Szczesny and the next muscling the ball away from Gervinho.

Even when Arsenal attempted to rally after Van der Vaart’s goal, Parker ensured Spurs reached the break ahead. Wenger’s side demonstrated some resilience after the interval, exploiting further evidence that Van der Vaart was placed on this earth to do many things but tracking back was not one of them. When Kaboul’s headed clearance fell to Song on Arsenal’s left, Van der Vaart’s attempt to keep pace with Song was a token effort. Song crossed low and hard and there was Ramsey, adjusting his body well to sweep Arsenal level.

The old Arsenal of the Invincibles or the Tony Adams era would have built on this, would have hunted a winner. Yet there is a brittleness to this Arsenal side. Spurs just went again, went for the jugular again. Adebayor should have beaten

Szczesny. Bale found his stride when Sagna departed on a stretcher, having fallen awkwardly when contesting an aerial ball with Benoît Assou-Ekotto. As Sagna tumbled into the hoardings, Spurs fans leaned over to taunt the stricken full-back.

Carl Jenkinson arrived and was immediately given a chasing by Bale.

Redknapp also made changes, sending on Sandro, who set up Walker. The full-back came steaming in, catching the ball flush and sending it speeding at Szczesny. The ball deviated in the air but what cost the Pole was his starting position, the keeper too rooted to the line, allowing Walker’s drive to fly past him. It was all over bar the cockerel crowing.

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