Arsenal fans will have awoken on Sunday morning feeling very satisfied after seeing their fierce local rivals swept aside in what turned out to be a fairly straightforward North London derby. Tottenham Hotspur had spent the week talking themselves up, but their inability to adequately replace key missing players was clear for all to see.
Arsenal were matched for the majority of the first half, but just before the half time whistle they dealt two hammer blows to Spurs’ chances of taking anything from the game, and Van Persie added a third after some particularly poor defending from Tottenham. But for Eduardo’s uncharacteristic profligacy in front of goal, the result could have been more emphatic. Robin Van Persie showed his undoubted quality on the day with two goals, and with the departures of Henry and Adebayor, he finally has his chance to show that he is capable of spearheading a top team in the manner of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba. Much was made of the laughable defending that contributed to Arsenal’s second goal, but this should not take away from the fact that it was a moment of genius from Cesc Fabregas. The Arsenal captain came into his own in the second half as he dictated the tempo of the game as only a handful of players in world football are capable of doing. The usually impressive Palacios was made to look fairly ordinary by the Spanish international; Fabregas is thriving in the three-man midfield that Wenger has adopted this season. So what does this tell us about Arsenal’s ambitions this season?
The clean sheet is a promising sign but it should be remembered that they were up against a Spurs side shorn of the creative talents of Modric and Lennon, as well as the predatory instincts of Defoe. Gael Clichy appears to be finding his form again after a shaky start to the season and with each passing game the centre-back partnership looks more assured. Question marks still exist over whether this Arsenal team has the required steel to win the league as demonstrated by the manner in which they relinquished a two goal lead at Upton Park. Alexandre Song is a promising player but lacks the discipline to play the holding role; he is pulled out of position too often and can leave his defence unprotected. In addition the goalkeeping position appears to be one of Wenger’s infamous blind spots and Arsenal were fortunate that the likes of Huddlestone and Bentley did not test Almunia from distance. There is not one top quality goalkeeper in the squad and this inadequacy has already cost the Gunners valuable points this season at Old Trafford and Upton Park. Despite these frailties, Arsenal are probably no worse than Manchester United and Liverpool defensively and going forward they are more potent than both these sides. In fact I would go as far as to say that Arsenal should be considered the team most likely to challenge Chelsea for the league title.
There will be greater tests ahead for Wenger’s team but Tottenham are a strong side and Arsenal made them look average; this bodes well for the rest of the season. They possess more high quality attacking players than any other team in the league and with the likes of Arshavin, Nasri and Eduardo yet to hit top form, Wenger will be optimistic regarding his teams’ chances of ending the wait for silverware. With a little bit of luck, Cesc Fabregas may well lead this team of young mavericks to what may be the most hotly contested league title in years.