5 talking points from the 125th North London derby
1. Emmanuel Adebayor, love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. Seriously.
There was a point of time when Adebayor was the scourge of the opponents’ defense; let’s just say that time is slowly going past. Yes, he did score a lot of goals for Spurs last year, and yes, he did open the scoring against Arsenal today. Try as you might not to pay any attention to him and his antics, he always manages to capture your attention. Be it his goal and spectator-inciting celebration against Arsenal for City, his stamp on Van Persie in the same game, or the goal and sending off against Arsenal today, he always manages to offset all good that he does by doing something unbelievably foolish. It has reached a point now where he is expected to do something which defies all expectations. But then, he did score, the day Tottenham started their first match this season with two upfront. I guess now we know why they don’t do it often.
2. Wilshere and Cazorla: Two-pronged playmaking tandem
Arsenal fans can relax, Jack Wilshere is already showing signs of getting back to the level he was at before injury and that he will not become another post-injury Ramsey or Eduardo (through no fault of theirs). His play today was quite brilliant, with a lovely turn and ball behind the defence for Walcott on the right just after the Adebayor goal the pick of his display. His link-up play was very good, as was seen by the two passes he played out to the flanks for Arsenal’s first goals in each half. He does seem to have become very irritable though (Angry Jack anyone?), following his return from injury. As far as Cazorla goes, everyone has been waxing lyrically about his play throughout the season, and he hasn’t stopped impressing yet. He was the epitome of incisive football today, running into empty spaces, holding onto the ball till the very last, and then releasing a teammate with an exquisite pass. His desire to keep passing the ball, and to keep going forward is admirable, and deservedly got the goal his display deserved. The run for Giroud’s goal, coupled with his willingness to stay on his feet should hopefully set an example. With the two of them operating in front of Arteta, Arsenal shold not find goals hard to come by.
3. Defensive vulnerability still persists
What was very clear from today’s game was that both Arsenal and Tottenham are defensively weak, and susceptible to teams which attack in numbers and with pace. All talk of Arsenal and their stingy defence is very premature as was proven by Mertesacker and his lapses in concentration for both the Spurs’ goals. Vermaelen had a pretty ordinary game defensively, and the only bright spark was Koscielny, who has blossomed into a compact defender, and one with a turn of pace. They cannot wait for Gibbs to return from injury, and for Wojciech Szczesny to get back to his best. The fact that Spurs threatened to get back into the game in the second half time and again is clear indication of improvements needed in the defence.
Spurs are in the same boat when it comes to their defending, as was shown by William Gallas and his calamitic defending. Age has clearly taken its toll on his game, and he has become a liability for the team. Naughton too was outfoxed multiple times in the first half by Walcott, with the equalizer coming because of his error, and a foolish foul within the next sequence of play almost leading to Giroud heading Arsenal into the lead from the ensuing free kick. Lloris had a good game in his first taste of the north London derby, and Vertonghen was outstanding for most part of the game, except for the last goal, by which time he was completely exhausted because of his continuous sojourns up and down the left flank.
4. Andre Villas Boas and his tactical flexibility
The fact that he accepted that his 4-2-3-1 does not work well without Dembele, and showed the maturity to change it into a more regular 4-4-2 to suit his team shows he is learning, albeit very slowly. What was more encouraging was the changes he made at half time, switching to a 3-4-1-1, and bringing on Dempsey and Dawson for the Sheffield boys, Naughton and Walker. The change to a back 3 helped Tottenham control possession for the first 10 odd minutes of the 2nd half, and it was a shame that they could not convert their dominance of possession into a goal. Bale and Lennon were very good as wing backs, running tirelessly the entire match trying to provide outlets to ease pressure on the defence. With a full quota of players, the 3-5-2 looks to be a good fit for the Tottenham squad, and it remains to be seen whether he persists with it or not.
5. Impact of today’s fixture
Well, for Arsenal, a much needed victory after a winless three weeks, and some much needed momentum in their quest to rise up the standings and into the Champions League places. Their defensive failings not withstanding, their free flowing offense has been very inconsistent, and they will hope this display was what they needed to get some wind in their sails.
Tottenham on the other hand, have a lot to ponder. Yes, they have been in and around the top 4 after a disastrous first couple of weeks, but then their displays have hardly been convincing. The offensive fluency that has been a characteristic of Spurs the previous seasons has been missing, and Villas Boas still does not seem to know his best team and formation. But as he rightly said, one defeat does not change much, and they did play better than Arsenal with 11 men. What he also has to keep note of is that one defeat is alright, 5 in 12 games is not. Not for a team with lofty ambitions.