Spurs on the rise
Lewis Rutledge picks out the main talking points from Tottenham Hotspur's 2-1 victory over Arsenal at White Hart Lane
Last Updated: 04/03/13 6:25am
Tottenham Hotspur climbed back to third in the Premier League standings on Sunday afternoon following an enthralling 2-1 victory over local rivals Arsenal.
Gareth Bale extended his superb scoring streak with the opening goal before Aaron Lennon added a second, and Arsenal could not get back on level terms despite a spirited response.
The Gunners now trail their North London neighbours by seven points and Arsene Wenger needs to fix their defensive shortcomings if they are to salvage something from another difficult season.
All is not lost yet for Arsenal but their misery will only be compounded if Spurs succeed in grabbing a Champions League spot, and the signs are that Andre Villas-Boas' men are going from strength to strength.
Emmanuel Adebayor, who was sent off in the reverse fixture at Emirates Stadium earlier in the season, kept his place in the Tottenham side against his former club as Jermain Defoe had to settle for a place on the bench. Gylfi Sigurdsson was rewarded for his impressive performance as a substitute against West Ham as he replaced Lewis Holtby in the starting XI, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto came in at left-back and Steven Caulker made way.
Abou Diaby failed to recover from a calf injury so Aaron Ramsey started in an Arsenal team that was otherwise unchanged from the XI that beat Aston Villa last weekend. Olivier Giroud was therefore given the nod to lead the line as a lone striker, supported by a three-pronged attacking midfield of Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla.
Both managers set out their teams in similar 4-2-3-1 formations but that did not mean the teams cancelled each other out and it was an open game throughout, particularly in the second half. While there were plenty of bodies in a congested midfield, the fact that both defences played with a high line mean there were regular opportunities for killer passes to be played in behind.
Arsenal failed to find a cutting edge, though, as Tottenham's centre-backs outperformed their opposite numbers and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris commanded his penalty area impressively. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen did not have the pace to justify their defensive strategy and were caught out by the pace of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon for Spurs' two goals.
Two of Villas-Boas' changes came very late in the day, with the injury that forced Mousa Dembele off sure to be a major concern for Spurs fans. The Portuguese tactician had earlier replaced the injured Adebayor with Defoe. Defoe looked sharp and will fancy his chances of a recall to the starting XI next time out.
Wenger attempted to make an attacking substitution when he brought on Tomas Rosicky for Carl Jenkinson on the hour mark, but the idea did not fully work as the young full-back had offered an attacking outlet and the reshuffle left Arsenal a little unbalanced, with Tottenham able to threaten on the break. Lukas Podolski also came on for Mikel Arteta after 77 minutes, but he did not make much of an impact and should perhaps have been given more time, if not a starting spot.
Officiating a North London derby is never an easy task for a referee but Mark Clattenburg deserves great credit for his handling of a match which could, at times, have boiled over. There were no major decisions for the man in the middle to make, although his assistants made two good calls for the Spurs goals as Bale and Lennon narrowly beat the offside trap. The most impressive part of Clattenburg's performance was the way he managed players who were understandably passionate about the occasion and intervened with a calm word at just the right moment.
Bale may have stolen the headlines yet again but it was Tottenham's defence that was the difference between the sides. Assou-Ekotto did well at left-back to help keep Theo Walcott quiet but it was the two centre-backs who impressed most and Jan Vertonghen was named Man of the Match ahead of skipper Michael Dawson after a series of crucial blocks and tackles, while his composure and positioning also mark the Belgian out as a class act.
None of Arsenal's players stood out as their defenders made sloppy mistakes for the Tottenham goals and their attacking players lacked firepower, but the Gunners still enjoyed periods of dominance in midfield and Aaron Ramsey justified his manager's faith in him with a lively display. He was full of vibrancy and energy, making several useful runs.
Both managers were keen focus on the next challenge after the match but Sunday's result could prove to be decisive after Tottenham opened up a seven-point cushion over their local rivals. Spurs are now unbeaten in 12 matches and will be setting their sights on overhauling second-placed Manchester City, although they have a tough trip to Anfield next weekend. Either side of the Liverpool game are two legs of a mouth-watering Europa League tie against Inter Milan.
Arsenal have ten days to prepare for their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich and, if they cannot overturn a 3-1 deficit in Germany, the quest for a top-four Premier League finish will become their sole focus. A journey to the Liberty Stadium to face Capital One Cup champions Swansea sounds far from easy, but Wenger's men can afford few slip-ups from now on and will be targeting maximum points from a run of games against Reading, West Brom and Norwich.