Tottenham in firm control of rivalry

BY Jamie Trecker • October 2, 2011

Tottenham mercilessly exploited Arsenal’s notoriously lax defense to put together a 2-1 win today in the North London derby. The result cemented Spurs’ dominance over the Gunners and added to the mounting pressure on manager Arsene Wenger.

The result leaves Arsenal in 15th in the Premier League heading into the international break, faced with many more questions than answers.

The match will be tape delayed on FOX later Sunday (check local listings).

Arsenal stand revealed as a side in precipitous decline. They are not a team going through a rough patch or a side being hurt by unlucky breaks. They have, in fact, become a bad team. They have glaring weaknesses at virtually every position and penchant for making head-slapping mistakes.

Against Tottenham — who aren’t exactly title contenders this season, either — Arsenal had about 40 minutes when they covered up the fact that they play with defenders few other teams at their level would hire. Yes, they are missing one key player in Thomas Vermaelen, but there still is little excuse for the sloppiness and lack of attention to detail that Arsenal exhibit in front of their goal.

Teams have figured out that if you pop the ball over what passes for a back line, you can take shots at will. Better yet, if you are patient enough, you can wait for the inevitable moment when Arsenal switch off and just gift you both the ball and an inviting target. That happened twice today.

First, Rafael van der Vaart chested down a searcher from former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor to exploit some particularly horrible ball-watching from Arsenal; then Kyle Walker scored the winner when Gervinho allowed the defender to drift uncontested and fire a shot right through Wojciech Szczesny. The keeper should have saved it, but to be fair, he had spent inordinate amounts of time cleaning up the messes left by Alex Song and the immobile Per Mertesacker in front of him. In fact, Adebayor could have had one of his own after Song and Mertesacker helpfully cleared a path for him, but the young Polish goalie was able to get a limb to it.

Arsenal got on the board from an unlikely source: Aaron Ramsey, who in all other aspects, had a miserable game. He scored when van der Vaart, in an Arsenal-esque fugue state, allowed Song to dash past him to the byline before crossing for the easy tap-in ahead of Brad Friedel.

Who did well for Arsenal? No one, really. Gervinho is shaping up to be a bust on the order of Maroune Chamakh; Mikel Arteta does not impress, and as we’ve already noted, the less said about the defenders, the better.

In recent weeks everyone in Arsenal’s organization has felt the need to tell anyone within shouting distance that Wenger won’t be fired. This is both admirable and telling. This team is so awful that any other manager would now be looking for work. To be fair, firing Wenger isn’t going to make misfires like Carl Jenkinson or Andrei Arshavin any better, but the Gunners are nonetheless a team clearly lacking leadership. At times, they look like a bunch of kids just trying to get through another miserable 90 minutes. At others, they look like a bunch of would-be star players trying to get the heck out the door by any means.

Tottenham, in contrast, looks like a side that is recovering from last spring’s dip in form. That was a spell when they were over-stretched by their European and Premiership demands, and they certainly might experience that fatigue again soon. If Gareth Bale does not look like the wunderkind of last season, there were at least moments today when we saw some of his old panache on the left wing. The defense is tighter with the presence of the reliable Friedel and the return of Ledley King, but the biggest question about this edition of Spurs is whether Adebayor will prove to be the answer at the head of a still-iffy attack.

There is no question, however, that Spurs are the North London team on the rise. That they did not have to play especially well to beat a side which once danced around them suggests how smoothly they have reversed the pecking order.

The saddest thing of all? Before the match, Harry Redknapp, manager of Arsenal’s arch-rivals, was the latest man to throw his support behind Wenger. And why not? After all, his Spurs keep beating them. I’d support a “colleague” like that, too.

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