Nov 012009

Arsenal 3 (Van Persie 42, 60, Fabregas 43) Tottenham 0

A victory that was as satisfying as it was ultimately comfortable guaranteed that the ‘noughties’ would be completed without a single Spurs victory over Arsenal in the league, a run now stretching to an impressive twenty games. After a week of attempted mind games from various members of the Spurs camp, it turned out once again to be a whole lot of hot air.

Spurs talk a lot about displacing us in the top four, but to reach the Champions League you have to be capable of beating the regular occupiers of those slots. After yet another attempt, they have now failed to win away to United, Chelsea, Liverpool or us in the league since 1993. That’s 65 trips to the top four clubs without a single victory, confirmation if any were needed that they have been a level below for a very long time.

In fairness to them, they came with a gameplan and frustrated us quite successfully for forty minutes. Cesc forced a great save out of Gomes after Arshavin’s run was blocked, Van Persie took a right-footed chance on his left and skewed it horribly wide, and other chances were restricted by our final ball being a little lacking.

But it is quite the myth that you beat Arsenal by parking the bus. It has been effective in recent years, but right now we’re scoring far too freely for that tactic to be effective – it would be much wiser to exploit our defensive vulnerabilities by having a go. Sit back for ninety minutes and you will get punished.

Two goals before half time changed the whole game. First Sagna was given far too much time from a throw in, and for once whipped in a superb cross, which Van Persie anticipated quicker than King, finishing past Gomes, who might have done better. Hilariously, eleven seconds of play later, it was 2-0, Cesc running from the halfway line past two woeful challenges to finish with aplomb.

The scoreline was sealed in the second half, when Eduardo was taken out, everyone stopped, but Clattenburg played advantage, Sagna realised just before the Spurs defence, and crossed for Van Persie. It should never have reached him, but King and Gomes got into an awful muddle and he tapped it into an empty net.

The scoreline flattered Spurs in the end – Eduardo had two wonderful chances, and Diaby shouldered wide when any contact with his head would’ve resulted in a certain goal. As time ticked on, we embarrassed Spurs with some impressive keep ball, but by then they were too demoralised to rise to the bait, seemingly happy to escape without the trouncing they could easily have been dealt to them.

‘Pride cometh before a fall’. Andy over at Arsenal FC Blog made a good point to me after the game – despite Keane’s claims that Spurs now have a deeper, stronger squad than we do, the players they called on to change the game were Bale, Hutton and Pavlyuchenko, hardly an inspirational set. And that’s with only three players missing, less than we have. In future, it may be wise for the Spurs contingent to wait until after the match before running their mouths in the press. Hubris is a painful lesson.

Another reason I am delighted with the win is that I can now wholly condemn the referee’s performance without it coming across as sour grapes. Mark Clattenburg was awful today. And by awful, I mean gut-wrenchingly bad. It is one thing missing things that happen on the pitch, it is quite another to spot them happening and fail to apply the rules. Here is his catalog of errors:

  • After a couple of minutes, Bentley deliberately and blatantly handled the ball to prevent a counter attack. Clattenburg spotted it, gave the free kick, but didn’t dish out the mandatory yellow. It seems he was saved by it being so early in the game (is there any sense in the unwritten law that it is really hard to be booked inside the first ten minutes?).
  • Just moments later, Bentley went it high, late and studs up on Vermaelen, a challenge that was without question a bookable offence. Coming so soon after the handball, action was inevitable, but again he was simply warned.
  • Also in the early stages, Assou-Ekotto kicked the ball away in dissent after a free kick was given against him. We all know that’s a mandatory yellow card, we’ve seen it a hundred times. Again, Clattenburg saw it, and warned the player. You can’t even argue that the referee was showing common sense – they are instructed to brandish a card in these instances, and it is players who boot the ball away in anger that lack common sense.
  • The only yellow Spurs did get was Crouch, for throwing the ball away after a decision went against him. It was the same action as Assou-Ekotto, but with completely different consequences.
  • The other yellow card in the game was for a perfectly good Vermaelen challenge.

All in all, it was a bizarre day of refereeing, especially in the opening twenty minutes when it seemed he’d left his yellow card in the dressing room. After Bentley could easily have picked up two yellows inside eight minutes, the law of sod suggested he’d go on to have an influence on the game. But after a while, I forgot he was still on the pitch, so anonymous was his presence. It is remarkable that so much money has been spent on a player who is clearly a million miles away from where he should be at this stage of his career.

Overall, it was an immensely satisfying display. The back five were excellent, Song tracked back exceptionally well, while Cesc, Arshavin and Van Persie are a trio who will conjure goals against anyone, at any time. I was less impressed by Diaby, however, who struggled to dominate midfield. He must be looking over his shoulder, especially with Ramsey putting in the sort of display he managed against Liverpool in midweek.

The one blight on the day was Bendtner’s injury, going off in the first half with a groin problem. Afterwards, Wenger was pessimistic about the prognosis:

“It looks quite serious. It is a groin problem and he will be out for four weeks at least.”

Fortunately, two of those weeks are another international break, so aside from Champions League matches in which his absence shouldn’t be an issue, he may only miss two games, Premiership trips to Wolves and Sunderland. In the meantime, Eduardo may get a few more opportunities, and Vela may come into contention.

But that is to worry about later. Today is about basking in the glow of the feeling of putting Spurs back where they belong.

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