Bale scores again as Spurs beat Arsenal 2-1
Tottenham confirmed the shift in north London’s balance of power
by beating Arsenal 2-1 in the Premier League on Sunday, opening up
a seven-point gap between the rivals in the fight for Champions
Near-identical goals by Gareth Bale – his 10th in his past eight
games – and fellow winger Aaron Lennon in a three-minute span at
the end of the first half proved decisive for Spurs, whose euphoric
post-match celebrations gave an indication of the psychological
importance of the victory. It left them third with 10 games
Per Mertesacker’s 51st-minute header that deflected in off Bale
gave Arsenal hope of a third straight derby comeback from 2-0 down
in a typically absorbing and frantic match at White Hart Lane. But
the visitors couldn’t avoid a costly loss that leaves them fifth,
denting their chances of playing in the Champions League for a 16th
straight season under Arsene Wenger.
”It’s not a big enough margin yet to be completely safe,” said
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, whose team is now unbeaten in
12 league matches. ”But what we think is that it can have a direct
effect on their motivation – and on ours, too.”
With Arsenal likely to go without silverware for an eighth
successive season, Wenger has been pinning his hopes on a top-four
finish to salvage something from a miserable campaign. But even
that is in serious doubt now, with Chelsea five points ahead in
fourth place. There is no more room for error – and such is
Arsenal’s fragility, especially in defense, that further setbacks
seem likely between now and the end of the season.
”It’s a massive challenge,” Wenger said. ”I still think it’s
possible and will fight for it, that’s for sure.”
Arsenal came back from a 10-point deficit to Spurs last season
to secure qualification for Europe’s top competition on the final
day, but Wenger had Robin van Persie up front then. And Bale wasn’t
in the kind of scintillating form that is currently earning him
comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Wales winger is virtually carrying Tottenham back into the
Champions League on his own, with his latest strike buttressing his
strong chances of winning English football’s Player of the Year
award. It also ensured he equaled the club record – held jointly by
Robbie Keane, Rafael van der Vaart and Teddy Sheringham – of
scoring in five straight Premier League games.
Playing centrally rather than on the left wing, he had arguably
been having his quietest match of the season up until his goal,
with Arsenal starting the stronger and its oft-criticized defense
It then simply disintegrated.
First, an unchallenged Gylfi Sigurdsson slipped a ball through
for Bale to beat the offside trap in a central position before
finishing with the outside of his left foot past goalkeeper
Wojciech Szczesny. His 20th goal of the season in all competitions
was met with chants of ”He scores when he wants” by the delirious
Arsenal’s back line, which has been suspect all season
especially through the middle, hadn’t learned its lesson because
Scott Parker threaded a pass behind the docile Thomas Vermaelen and
Lennon rounded Szczesny to slot into an empty net only 140 seconds
It was extremely disheartening for Wenger, whose team made had
its best start to a big game for some time.
Only a last-gasp tackle by Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, the
game’s outstanding player, stopped Olivier Giroud from going
through on goal, while the impish Jack Wilshere – playing in a more
attacking role – looked more than capable of picking off
Tottenham’s high defensive line. The team’s movement and passing
had been sharp and crisp but it was all undone in a flash.
”It’s difficult to understand how we lost a game like that,”
Arsenal came from 2-0 behind to win the last two north London
derbies 5-2, and its fans dared to dream of another comeback when
Mertesacker rose highest to glance in a free kick from Theo
Walcott, the header taking a touch off Bale. Both of Mertesacker’s
goals this season have come against Spurs.
More goals have been scored in north London derbies than in any
other head-to-head rivalries in the Premier League, so it was no
surprise to see them flying in once again.
There should have been more, in Arsenal’s net, but Bale skied
over from close range, Sigurdsson chose to pass rather than shoot
when one-on-one with Szczesny, and then Jermain Defoe – on for the
injured Adebayor – dribbled a shot wide.
Substitute Tomas Rosicky gave Arsenal more urgency in the final
20 minutes but Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris wasn’t seriously
troubled, with Vertonghen and Michael Dawson having mighty games at
center half in front of him.
Such is Tottenham’s form is that the team may yet overtake
second-place Manchester City, which is only two points clear ahead
of Monday’s match at Aston Villa. Finishing fourth and ahead of
Arsenal will be Spurs’ priority, however.
”The difference from last year is that we are on an upward
spiral in terms of confidence and they are on a negative spiral in
terms of results,” Villas-Boas said. ”To come out of that
negative spiral will be very difficult.”
Villas-Boas said Adebayor and Mousa Dembele, who both went off
injured, in the second half should be fit for Thursday’s Europa
League last-16 match against Inter Milan.