If the commitment on the field didn’t tell the story well enough, then the Arsenal celebrations after the final whistle certainly did.
The Gunners’ 1-0 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Sunday wasn’t the best of recent encounters, but it had just as much impact. Tottenham now find themselves languishing in fifth place in the Premier League, nine points behind their North London rivals having played a game more. The result effectively decided the final Champions League positions.
Tomas Rosicky’s second minute piledriver gave Arsenal a lead from virtually their first period in possession and the game settled into a repetitive pattern from there. Spurs squeezed Arsenal’s central midfielders and defenders into punting long balls up to Olivier Giroud, who lacked the first-touch on the day to hold the ball up well enough to wait for support.
Despite Spurs’ dominance of the ball, Arsenal’s defence were unduly troubled by the one-dimensional nature of Tottenham’s attacks, often opting to kick it high into Emmanuel Adebayor who was dealt with effectively by Arsenal’s ever-reliable defensive duo of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. But for one glaring error from Wojciech Szczesny which gifted a chance to Nacer Chadli, Spurs failed to penetrate. All-in-all, the game lacked the quality and the pazazz of past North London derbies.
The only characteristic of any note during the game were both teams’ will to win. Spurs, coming off the back of three straight defeats (two of which being resounding losses at the hands of technically superior sides), were determined to force Arsenal’s midfield and defence into errors in possession and capitalise. They played without fear of previous results and weren’t hamstrung by the pressure that these derbies inevitably come with. They threw everything at their rivals, to no avail.
Arsenal’s early goal meant that Spurs were made to immediately chase the game. Tottenham’s energy levels and their commitment in 50-50 challenges seemed greater than the Gunners, who were probably more concerned about preservation of their one-goal lead rather than pushing on any harder. But Arsenal’s concentration levels remained supreme. The centre-backs were rarely, if ever, caught short up against Adebayor.
The reaction from the away side and their support after the final whistle showed just what it meant to all involved. Lukas Podolski demonstrated the bond he has formed with the supporters as he jumped into the crowd to celebrate with them whilst the look on Per Mertesacker’s face each time he charged towards the touchline during the game to remonstrate with Tim Sherwood was just reflective of the way he approaches every match. These players know what the North London derby represents, foreign or not, boyhood Gunners or not.
With upcoming fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal will have to improve on this showing to hope to get anything from either of those games. If they head to Stamford Bridge and fail to impose themselves you can have no doubt that Eden Hazard and co won’t hesitate to punish them. Spurs are a decent side, but Chelsea are a cut above, and Arsenal will quickly discover this if they play as they did at White Hart Lane.
For Spurs, the result has left them with a mountain to climb if they’re to achieve their annual ambition of Champions League football. Paul Merson was particularly scathing in his post-match analysis saying that they were a ‘million miles’ off Champions League football. He branded their signings as all ‘fours or fives’ out of ten. One positive showing against their fiercest of rivals isn’t enough to hide the clear flaws in the squad. The fact that the team lying in fifth place have a goal difference of -1 tells the whole story. The lack of creativity and attacking threat they posed to Arsenal has been consistent throughout. They’re struggling to score goals and it costs them.
The North London derby didn’t have the glut of goals that recent seasons have seen. Spurs didn’t show the quality that the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart have been able to impact on this fixture in the past. And the Gunners’ attacking players never showed up. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but the commitment was no different. Let’s hope next season’s derbies don’t follow a similar pattern.