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Five things Arsenal could have done to beat Tottenham

Yesterday evening’s North London Derby at White Hart Lane ended in a 2-1 win for the Tottenham Hotspur over Arsenal.

Goals from Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale gave the hosts the lead inside the final ten minutes of the first half before Per Mertesacker’s second-half header set the tone for a frenetic second half.

Here are five strategies Arsenal could have employed to defeat Spurs.

1) Keep tabs on Gareth Bale

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 03:  Gareth Bale of Spurs celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at White Hart Lane

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 03: Gareth Bale of Spurs celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at White Hart Lane

As if this had to be said!

Gareth Bale has been one of Spurs’ most influential players this season, if not their most influential. Having found the back of the net 20 times in all competitions and providing for another ten, Bale has come into his own this season at the Lane, and is sure to have a formidable queue of potential suitors who will be chasing his signature over the summer.

But while Arsenal did designate Mikel Arteta to keep watch over the Wales winger, his free roam role behind Emmanuel Adebayor meant he was allowed to inflict damage from anywhere in the Arsenal attacking third. The failure of Arsenal’s defenders to commit to that was their undoing.

2) Close down the ball

Both Spurs goals were characterised by a lack of pressure from Arsenal whenever Spurs had possession.

Gylfi Sigurdsson was allowed too much space on the right hand side of midfield, allowing him to cut in and feed the lethal Welshman, who opened the scoring with  simple finish past Wojciech Szczesny.

The second goal was a carbon copy of the first. The only person chasing Scott Parker was Aaron Ramsey, who was still some way away as the England international picked out his countryman Aaron Lennon, who rounded past Szczesny to tap home number two.

The Arsenal rearguard was caught flat-footed on both occasions, as they tried to maintain their back line when it would have been better to shut down whoever had the ball at that time.

3) Mark your man

Arsenals players react after conceding the second goal during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane in north London on March 3, 2013.

Arsenals players react after conceding the second goal during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane in north London on March 3, 2013.

Both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were left unguarded when they scored their goals for Spurs.

Thomas Vermaelen failed to track the Welsh winger’s run and was left painfully alone in front of Szczesny’s goal as he was given plenty of time and space to compose himself and plant a shot past the Poland goalkeeper.

Nacho Monreal was responsible for keeping up with the fleet-footed Lennon and, despite sticking to him for a while, he let go of the England wide man when it most necessary to hang on to him, giving the Spurs player enough time to round Szczesny and tap home goal number two.

4) Keep your momentum going in the most crucial parts of the game

The most important minutes of any half of a game of football are the opening and final ten minutes. The opening salvoes allow you shock and awe, catching your opponent unawares, while the final ten provide opportunities to pick your opponents off as tiredness begins to set in.

While Arsenal did pile forward for much of the first forty-five minutes, Spurs endured, and struck blows that undid Arsenal because they did not collect themselves when it mattered most. Going into half time goalless would have given the Gunners a potential edge, and the psychological advantage because they would have gone into the break scoreless, being the better side at the home of their hated opponents.

As Per Mertesacker’s goal proved in the second half, Arsenal’s pressure at the right time almost found them a way back into the game.

5) Be more incisive in front of goal

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 03:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 03: Theo Walcott of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane

Despite Arsenal’s probing for large parts of the game, they didn’t have much in the final third to show for their efforts.

Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal both powered efforts wide, and Aaron Ramsey’s goal bound effort was deflected wide by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but that and Lukas Podolski’s stoppage-time effort aside, they did not score from open play.

For a team that prides itself on finding the back of the net from open play, this is a bone of contention. One might argue that Spurs did waste several chances when presented with them, but they scored when it counted, didn’t they?

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