For the first time in Premier League history, Tottenham went in to a North London derby as favourites.
Since losing to both Manchester clubs at the start of the season, Spurs picked up three consecutive Premier League wins in September, whilst Arsenal had continued to struggle and again, another first in Premier League history, Arsenal went in to the derby in the lower half of the table. Tottenham justified the tag as favourites, running out 2-1 winners with goals from Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker either side of a goal from Aaron Ramsey.
Manager Harry Redknapp sent Spurs out in a 4-4-2 formation with the same line-up that dispatched Liverpool, the exception being Van der Vaart instead of Kranjcar on the left wing. For the first ten minutes Spurs were in the ascendency; however the Lilywhites were unable to find the same fluidity and rhythm as against Liverpool and gradually Arsenal took control of possession in the half. Perhaps the problem for Spurs was with Bale and Van der Vaart keeping to the touchline, their central midfield duo found it difficult to retain the ball against the Arsenal central trio.
With Arsenal controlling the ball, Spurs were left to threaten on the counter attack. However, it may have been a tactical error to see Van der Vaart on the wing. The Dutchman does not have natural pace, and was perhaps over reliant on Walker to get up and down and to take on Kieran Gibbs. He prefers a central role and maybe showed this when in the 40th minute he broke into left of the Arsenal penalty area to collect a lobbed pass from Adebayor and shoot past Szczesny.
After the break Arsenal again controlled possession and after equalising in the 51st minute, looked like they may push on. Redknapp then introduced Sandro for Van der Vaart in the 64th minute. This change perhaps should have been made at half time as it gave Spurs more bite in the middle and Spurs started to regain control which possibly they never lost. An attack in the 72nd minute led to a swirling strike from Walker, after which Arsenal were pushing for a goal which led to them being more and more vulnerable at the back.
Arguably, Spurs won the match because they had the better defense and a faster and more direct attack. The Spurs’ back four made 11 interceptions and 33 clearances, compared to 7 and 13 by Arsenal’s. Add in Scott Parker’s excellent defensive midfield play, continuously harrying and breaking up the Arsenal play, and for all their greater possession, Arsenal were restricted to only 13 goal attempts, with Van Persie subdued with just one shot.
By contrast, with Redknapp’s tactic of having the pacey Defoe against Mertesacker, Adebayor against Song in an unaccustomed centre back role, and Bale’s speed on the left, Spurs stretched the Arsenal defence, managing 18 attempts on goals and but for Szczesny may have won by more.
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