In a matter of 25 minutes, Arsenal ripped up the form book as they put five past Tottenham to claim maximum points, not to mention bragging rights, in one of most compelling north London derbies in living memory.
Amidst all of the chaos of Arsenal’s goal-scoring deluge at the Emirates Stadium, Tottenham will be kicking themselves for coming so close to executing the perfect game plan, but letting it slip much to the their embarrassment.
Tottenham’s approach was clear for all to see from the off; defend deep and use the pace they possessed, in particular with Gareth Bale, to catch a rickety Arsenal defence out cold on the break - and for a while it looked to have worked wonderfully.
Tottenham’s second goal was the perfect demonstration of the plan working to full effect while their first goal worked the system equally as well, with Gareth Bale releasing Emmanuel Adebayor from deep, with the Togolese striker pulling Laurent Koscielny out of position to create a huge space for Louis Saha to run into and eventually score.
Kyle Walker was also in on the action, pulling defenders out of position when he bombed forward.
The problem came however, when they tried to implement the second half of the plan.
Arsenal were invited forward expecting to see two banks of four but were able to exploit the chasm between defence, who went to deep and not as unit too many times, and midfield who as a foursome, were inadequate in providing protection and were too far from their team-mates at the back.
Before their second goal there were plenty of warning signs. Robin van Persie came close to leveling soon after, while Tomas Rosicky had a header brilliantly turned over by Brad Friedel.
For Van Persie’s effort Mikel Arteta bypassed the entire midfield four - who gave their opponents for too much space - with a simple pass to Alex Song, who was able to shift the ball wide to Bacary Sagna, with the Frenchman in acres of space to deliver a ball to Van Persie, who missed by a hair’s breadth.
Gareth Bale’s shrug of the shoulders in the moments after Friedel had expertly tipped Rosicky's header over typified the confusion in the Tottenham ranks as they struggled with the onslaught.
In the build up to Arsenal’s first goal of the game, Tottenham’s ragged shape cost them again, while another recurring theme, a lack of protection in wide positions also pined the blame on the midfield, most notably Niko Kranjcar and to a lesser extent, Gareth Bale.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto, a liability for much of the game, was exposed by the lack of cover in front of him by Kranjcar, and when it came to defending balls from out wide the Cameroonian was ponderous, while Scott Parker hardly covered himself in glory as all three men did little to stop balls coming into the area before Sagna headed powerfully into the back of the net to put the Gunners back in the game.
Parker tried desperately to shore up the leaking ship but could do little as he stepped up, went man for man in an attempt to close the ball but with an extra man in the middle of the pitch, Arsenal were able to play around him and get past Luka Modric, who was particular errant in his defensive responsibilities. Tottenham simply couldn't get a grasp on the game, and even at 2-0 they looked vulnerable and prone to conceding a goal.
Van Perse’s wonderful piece of individual skill drew Arsenal level just before half time, and in the process probably scored the goal that defined the outcome of the game.
Tottenham may have opted to stay as they were for the second half if they had held onto the lead but van Persie’s goal meant they needed to switch things up, and stem the flow if they were to win the game.
Harry Redknapp opted to make changes right away at half-time, bringing on Sandro and Rafael Van der Vaart in place of Saha and Kranjcar in an attempt to shore things up in midfield and roughly match Arsenal’s formation.
What Redknapp didn’t count upon however, was his anchor in midfield going AWOL. Sandro appeared to have little defensive inclination, getting ahead of the ball regularly, leaving Parker to put out fires all over the place, something that would eventually prove to be his downfall.
With Spurs tactically at sea Arsenal were able to play them at their own game, countering and exploiting the space and time in the second half to devastating effect.
While Tottenham may have played a large part in their own downfall, the Gunners front four deserve plenty of credit for doing what Tottenham had done in the first half, only better.
Balls from midfield into the feet of Rosicky and Theo Walcott turned Ledley King who struggled all afternoon to cope with the speed of Arsenal’s attack, while his partnership with Younes Kaboul needs examining after more often than not one pressed and the other didn’t, rendering Spurs’ offside trap ineffectual.
Walcott in particular exploited the gap between Assou-Ekotto and King well, running the channel he is so used to and finding the far corner of the net twice, one drive and one chip, to hand Arsenal the points.
Tottenham have proved their mettle at the back already this season so there is little to suggest their performance was them reverting to type – Redknapp will be praying it was just a bad day at the office.
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