Arsenal’s loss is Tottenham’s gain

Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham defenderYesterday, it was reported by the Daily Mail that Arsene Wenger missed out on signing Tottenham man Jan Vertonghen because the French manager planned to play him as part of the Arsenal midfield.

The former Ajax defender, who opted to sign for Arsenal’s local and league rivals instead, has been in fantastic form this season and was clearly a steal at just £9.5million considering the outrageous fees players are bought and sold for now days – West Ham’s Matt Jarvis was £1million more expensive yet the defender has equalled the  winger’s goal tally so far this season.

The phrase “Arsenal’s loss is Tottenham’s gain” comes to mind, and that is fairly symbolic in regards to the situation surrounding the fierce rivals. The Gunners may have the first half of the season’s bragging rights, having dominated over Spurs with a 5-2 drubbing in the North London Derby – although Tottenham were arguably playing better than their opponents before Emmanuel Adebayor got overexcited and earned himself a red card, just minutes after netting against the Togo international’s former club – but Arsenal have gone from a team underperforming to a club in disarray over the past few weeks whilst Andre Villas-Boas has been quietly going about his business at White Hart Lane.

Despite the fact the Portuguese coach remains unable to provide a formula that allows Spurs to take points off the Premier League’s top three clubs – although he did break the club’s winless Old Trafford curse – the Londoners find themselves five points off third spot, and are just three goals short of fourth place Everton. Steffan Freund, AVB’s right hand man, announced earlier in the season that the club currently have their best opportunity to end Arsenal’s 18-year dominance over North London. I doubt he believed that would be due to the detriment of the Gunners as pressure grows on their under-fire boss, but nether-the-less his prophecy could come true by the end of the season.

Not that it’s all over for Arsenal, they may be in meltdown at the moment following some dismal performances and their shocking defeat to Bradford City, a team that cost just 7.5k to put together, but at least domestically they are hardy in dire straits, being just two points off fourth spot. Then again, Gunners fans are spending yet another year slowly moving further away from being a legitimate part of the title race.

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Back to Jan Vertonghen, Arsene Wenger has missed out on a good player, and forming a regular partnership with former Ajax and current international team-mate Thomas Vermaelen would have been a relishing prospect. The defenders are just two members of Belgium’s golden generation that has taken the Premiership by storm over the past few seasons. Furthermore, he would have been a much better alternative to Per Mertesacker, possibly the slowest footballer to ever play in the Premier League and a consistently average performer – hardly what the Gunners need right now.

Wenger’s supposed proposal to play Vertonghen in midfield is interesting, but is hardly the first time the Frenchman has made such a curious suggestion. Shifting players around has worked in the past, with the most obvious examples being Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie moved up-front despite originally being considered wingers, and Kolo Toure was once a midfielder.

But in other instances, it hasn’t worked. The front-line used against Bradford in the Capital One Cup featured three players out of position. Lukas Podolski is capable of playing out wide but is technically a forward, whilst Gervinho was used as a striker but is in fact a winger – proven by another horrendous miss during the second half (there are so many now the Ivorian international could have his own Christmas bloopers DVD) – and Aaron Ramsey is a central midfielder who was used on the right wing.

More alarmingly, during a debate over Wayne Rooney’s role in the Manchester United first-team as part of the press’s recognition of a decade passing since the young Evertonian’s wonder striker propelled him to footballing fame, Wenger agreed that the United forward’s game had slowly developed into him becoming more the most forward element of a midfield three as oppose to being up-front, but the Frenchman then told reporters that “Personally, I prefer him as a striker”. I think Rooney’s 71 assists for United, whilst also managing 27 goals last season from a deeper role, as well as his hard-working defensive contribution rubbishes Wenger’s notion.

Once again, I digress. “Arsenal’s loss is Tottenham’s gain” is a phrase that speaks volumes when considering both club’s transfer policies, an aspect of Wenger’s management that has come under scrutiny recently. This summer Spurs signed four players from other Premier League clubs; Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Emmanuel Adebayor and Moussa Dembele – and in fact apart from a few anomalies, all of their squad have previous Premier League experience with other teams. Excluding Mikel Arteta, the whole of the Arsenal team are imported from foreign leagues or youngsters purchased from lower division clubs. Scott Parker is a classic example, it was rumoured that the Gunners were interested in the England midfielder following West Ham’s relegation, yet he rather unsurprisingly ended up at White Hart Lane.

It is also a notion that will have very real consequences at the end of the season. Although I would never suggest it’s a simple two-horse race for the final European qualification spot as it has perhaps traditionally been, with Everton and West Brom firmly in the mix for a Champions League finish, and some have quite optimistically tipped Liverpool for a post-Christmas revival to lift them up the table, it seems it will eventually come down to the two North London clubs to battle it out for fourth spot.

Earlier this year, Wenger told reporters that coming fourth as a minimum requirement wasn’t simply in order to beat their rivals, but perhaps it should be. With this season all but over for the Gunners already, letting Spurs finish above them would truly spell disaster for Wenger. He should always remember considering the close proximity in location and in the table between the two clubs that Arsenal’s loss will always be Tottenham’s gain.