Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal: Derby Doom
Team: Szczesny, Sagna (Jenkinson), Song, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Coquelin, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Benayoun), van Persie, Gervinho (Arshavin)
The Short Report
Spurs came away with the North London Derby spoils, as we suffered our fourth defeat in seven games. Rafael van der Vaart, rapidly becoming our nemesis in this fixture put the hosts ahead just before half-time. Aaron Ramsey equalised before full-back Kyle Walker beat Szczesny with a long-range effort, seventeen minutes from time.
The AL Report
So our mini-revival has come to an abrupt halt. Arsene Wenger’s fifteenth anniversary was marked in the worst possible fashion as defeat to Spurs leaves a top four finish looking extremely remote right now.
For obvious reasons, all the pre-match hype centred on Emmanuel Adebayor, but it was Rafael van der Vaart who gave Spurs the lead, with a definite hint of hand ball. Aaron Ramsey’s second half equaliser pulled us back into the contest, but Tottenham found another obscure hero to win the points. In 2010, it was Danny Rose, this time it was Kyle Walker whose swerving shot left Wojciech Szczesny stranded.
Wenger made a total of six changes from the side that beat Olympiacos in mid-week. With Alex Song needed at the back, the boss gave Francis Coquelin the nod ahead of Emmanuel Frimpong in defensive midfield. After being rested against the Greeks, Robin van Persie came straight back in forming a front-three with Gervinho and Theo Walcott – both of whom passed late fitness tests.
The old enemy made a confident start and put us under pressure early on. Six minutes in and Szczesny was called into action to deny Scott Parker brilliantly from close range. We eventually managed to settle and strung together a few promising moves. Coquelin was particularly impressive – showing immense composure to win the ball the back and distribute it cleanly.
Aaron Ramsey had a great chance to put us ahead, but could only nod wide from a corner won via a deflected effort from Walcott. We then won a free-kick in a dangerous position a few yards from the goal-line, but Mikel Arteta opted to shoot when the angle suggested he would have been better aiming it into the box.
We looked comfortable on the ball, but always susceptible to a Spurs counter-attack. Van der Vaart earned a booking for clattering into Kieran Gibbs before blasting Jermain Defoe’s cross over the bar. Our best opportunity fell to Gervinho after some superb work from Robin van Persie. Cutting in from the left, he ghosted past Younnes Kaboul before squaring a perfect ball to the Ivorian, who could only fire wide.
It was a dreadful miss and one we would rue five minutes before half-time. Adebayor chipped a good pass into the path of van der Vaart, who chested it down and slotted past Szczesny. It was a smart finish, but the replays indicated he had clearly used his arm to bring it under control. Only Per Mertesacker made a half-hearted appeal as the Dutchman wheeled off to celebrate in the crowd, avoiding what should have been a second yellow card. Controversy aside, the goal was mainly down to shoddy defending as Sagna and Mertesacker allowed him far too much space in the box.
We started the second-half determined to make amends and we only had to wait five minutes for the equaliser. Temporarily abandoning his centre-half duties, Alex Song drove into space on the left-hand aside and drilled in a cross that Ramsey blasted into the roof of the net. Galvanised by the goal, we enjoyed a dominant spell and rattled Spurs with a bombardment of balls into their area. But with our defence you know the opposition will always have chances to come back into the game.
Gareth Bale’s through-ball bypassed Mertesacker and sent Adebayor clean through. He attempted to send it to Szczesny’s left, but the keeper produced yet another outstanding save to stop the goal that Gooners everywhere had been dreading pre-match.
Then came a moment could have horrible implications for the rest of our season. Bacary Sagna landed awkwardly after an aerial challenge with Benoit Assou-Ekotto and clattered into the advertising hoardings. It was immediately clear that he was in terrible pain and was clutching his ankle. Early reports suggest he may have broken his fibula. If true, then we face losing our most consistent defender for several months – yet another piece of catastrophic news. Carl Jenkinson was thrown on for his first league appearance since the Old Trafford Massacre.
The ineffectual Walcott was replaced by Yossi Benayoun moments before Tottenham scored the winner. Song’s block from a Luka Modric shot fell to Kyle Walker, at least 40 years from goal. The full-back hit a powerful low drive through a crowd that moved away from Szczesny at the last second, bouncing off his wrists into the back of the net. It was tough on Wojciech, who had put in another storming display until that point, but he will know he should have done much better.
With seventeen minutes on the clock, plus a further five in stoppage time, it was extremely disappointing that we failed to put Spurs under any sustained pressure. Bale and Defoe could have made it 3-1 as we sent Mertesacker up front in a desperate last throw of the dice. It was to no avail though and we slumped to our fourth defeat in seven games.
Next up: A fortnight’s international break before we play Sunderland – the first of two home league fixtures sandwiched in between a visit to Marseille.
Man of the Match
Francis Coquelin fully justified the manager’s decision to include him at the expense of Emmanuel Frimpong. It may have been a horrible day, but the 20-year old’s performance was a real positive. Thrown into the deep end again following a brutal debut at Old Trafford, he excelled here. His composed tackling and accurate distribution in the most testing of atmospheres suggest he is more than ready for a run in the team while Song is required in defence.
Aaron Ramsey scored our goal, but that aside, it was an afternoon to forget for the Wales captain. Unable to give us any creative impetus, he was guilty of giving the ball away all too often, allowing Spurs to launch quick counter-attacks. Is it down to a lack of concentration or focus or has his poor form been part of our general malaise? It’s hard to say, but he looks very ineffective at the moment.
Moan of the Match
It was bad enough that Van der Vaart’s handball wasn’t spotted by the officials and even more galling that he avoided a second booking after his over-exuberant celebration. In fact, had he not already been yellow carded for bringing down Gibbs, I am almost certain he would have gone into the book. I don't necessarily agree with this petty rule that forbids players from celebrating with the fans, but it is yet another example of referees failing to consistently apply the laws of the game.
The Final Word
How grim it is to go to Arsenal.com to be greeted with the all-too familiar headline ‘I felt we played with the handbrake on’.
We did okay in patches today, but were unable to provide much service to Robin van Persie, who cut an isolated figure for the most part. The thing that disappointed me was the lack of fight after Walker’s goal. We showed little appetite for getting back into the game despite there being plenty of time left.
Spurs, who hadn’t won a North London Derby in the league for eleven years, now have three victories in eighteen months. It is a depressing statistic, but not one we can afford to dwell on as all our efforts must be focused on climbing up the table.
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2011-12 | Match Reports