For the first time since say… Arsene Wenger took over the helm at Arsenal, the Gunners were not out and out favorites to win the North London Derby. This has been a developing trend though, with Spurs holding a derby record 2-1-1 in the previous two campaigns and last season scoring a victory at Arsenal for the first time in 17 years.
The first half saw a few chances at both ends but had a good fifteen minute stretch with very little activity. All Spurs’ best chances came in the first twenty minutes of the match. Scott Parker looked rather lost when he was gifted a chance one on one against Szczesny and put a weak effort on goal early. We’ve seen Van der Vaart put away those tight angle crosses as the late arriving attacker, but the timing of his run just wasn’t coordinated with the pace of the ball in from Bale. Slightly later, Van der Vaart should have finished from close range on a sharp cross Defoe sent in from the right. It may be a bit too much to ask, but for something really out of the top drawer, VdV would have let the ball run in between his legs and hit it with the heel of his right foot to the far post, instead of trying to jam in it near post with his left toe.
Apparently Manu Adebayor can play a nice ball in, as he did in the 40th minute. The one he sent in for Van der Vaart was lovely, and yes, he did use his arm to cushion the ball down, but that finish was sublime. This week, I’m going to argue that the referees can’t be expected to see everything on the pitch and sometimes things go your way. If there’s a call or non-call that goes against Spurs at Newcastle, that might be a different story.
The second half was marked by an early goal from Arsenal, six minutes in. The Gunners goal was a very odd play on a corner that Spurs never cleared. After a half-heartened clearance away, the ball fell to Alex Song (the centerback) who beat VdV down his left flank and crossed low to Aaron Ramsey (the worst player on the field), who roofed the ball into the net past Brad Friedel. Shortly after, Bale slipped a beautiful ball in to Adebayor who couldn’t find a way to beat Szczesny one-on-one.
Much of the last 45 was cautious play, as neither team wanted to risk a counter attack by pushing forward. On the game-winning play, Sandro didn’t stop running to open up space for himself on a Tottenham throw-in. He drove inside down the left side and finds Modric near the top of the 18. His shot is blocked but the ball falls kindly to Kyle Walker who takes one touch to set up a curling blast from at least 25 yards out. If you watched Walker play on loan last year, you knew he was capable of strikes from distance (he scored a couple for Aston Villa in the second half of the season), but even I would have never guessed he’d be the hero of North London on Sunday.
Aside from chances for both Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe to seal the game, the remaining 20 minutes was played in Spurs’ defensive end. Arsenal tried desperately to get a second goal, but Tottenham held strong in the back. Spurs were better on the day, but bear in mind that Arsenal were missing Jack Wilshere in midfield and are still trying to figure out life without Fabregas and Nasri. Arsenal were not full strength, but if Szczesny didn’t bring his A-game on Sunday the Gunners absolute horrible defending would have let in three or four more chances for Spurs.
At the end of the day, Tottenham were the better team and fully deserved their three points. Wolves, Liverpool, Wigan, Arsenal; 4 wins in 4 games. Spurs are winning the games they need to win, and that’s not something I could have said last season. Winning the North London Derby is a treat I’ll savor for rest of the year, but gritty wins against the lesser quality sides in the Premier League will decide the fate of Spurs table finish.