North London Derby
The game between Arsenal and Tottenham was built up this previous week as a test of Arsenal’s mettle and to see whether the Spurs under Villas-Boas had improved enough to beat their rival. In the end it seemed fair that Tottenham walked off the field with three points considering their fast flowing attacking play that seemed to startle the Arsenal defence for 90 minutes. But while this game showed that Tottenham is to be considered a top team in England it shouldn’t be greeted as a shift in the balance of power.
The first thing to consider when thinking about the game is which ground was it played atg. Home field is a huge advantage to have. It is an even bigger advantage when you are playing your local rivals. The fans will be behind the team and the majority of the stadium will be filled with supporters cheering your team on and providing a hostile atmosphere for the visitors. When teams on a similar level play then home field advantage has a huge role to play in the outcome of the match, so for Tottenham to only win 2-1 and to disappear during periods of the game, unable to cope with Arsenal’s passing game, showed that this result wasn’t as significant as some media outlets and commentators have made it out to be.
The second thing to think about is the relative strength of both teams. Tottenham couldn’t really complain about not having their strongest eleven on the field: Tottenham was without Sandro but Scott Parker is an equally strong player. If you look at the Arsenal team though there was a problem from the first minute: the defence was tragic. The Arsenal defence was abused from the first minute of the game. Without Sagna, putting Jenkinson in the team, Arsenal was already one quality player down. Jenkinson isn’t a bad player, he just has flaws such as being unable to defend or put crosses into the box or to provide an outlet on the right hand side of midfield. The same thing is true with Mertesacker: he is a big, tall defender and useful in aerial battles, it just happens that when he turns it takes him half a decade. Vermaelen has had his ups and downs this season and really hasn’t been the player this year that he was last year and Nacho is still trying to adjust to the English game but he did look like one of Arsenal’s best players. When you compare the Arsenal backline to that of Tottenham I think you would take Dawson and co. over what Arsenal fielded. So for Arsenal to only concede two away from home against an in form Tottenham side is really not a bad result and shows that there is not a huge gulf in class between the two sides.
However, there is a huge difference when it comes to the running of the clubs. I know I rant about this all the time, and you may be frustrated with me, but victory is often found in the everyday running of the club rather than on the field. Tottenham recently has been a much better run club than Arsenal: their transfer policy has made sense, taking a gamble on a young manager paid off, and their lack of backroom discord has enabled the growth of a Champions League quality team. Arsenal on the other hand are plagued by rumours of Wenger getting a new contract or being fired, of boardroom power struggles and mysterious bids from oil wealthy businessmen who want to buy the club for twice its value. These are signs of a failing club rather than a rising club. The battle is won before it is fought and Arsenal really need to get their act together and solve the internal problems before they can start competing for trophies again.
But really I shouldn’t take anything away from Tottenham: Bale and Lennon ran throughout the game like sheepdogs splitting the timid Arsenal backline. I was impressed by the vision of Holtby and I still feel a pang of remorse when I see Dembele playing with his characteristic style and grace in a Tottenham shirt. This is a young, attacking, fluid team that is still learning to play with each other and in the style of Villas-Boas. They should be better next season as long as the don’t lose Bale and they solve their striking issue, but the gulf in class between these two teams is not as large as people have made it out to be and next year if Arsenal solve their backroom issues it could go the other way.