Kyle Walker hits derby winner as Spurs overcome Arsenal
Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1: Ben Pearce reports from White Hart Lane
Kyle Walker struck a 30-yard wonder-goal to win the north London derby as Tottenham extended their winning run to four Premier League games, and exacerbate Arsenal’s poor start to the campaign.
Emmanuel Adebayor set up Spurs’ opening goal against his old club, with Rafael van der Vaart breaking the deadlock in the first half.
And, although Arsene Wenger’s Gunners equalised shortly after half-time through Aaron Ramsey, Walker’s first goal for the Lilywhites ensured another derby victory for Spurs – their third in the last four league meetings.
Harry Redknapp named an attacking line-up at the Lane, going 4-4-2 with Jermain Defoe partnering Adebayor up front.
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Aaron Lennon missed out on the squad after losing his race for fitness, while Sandro dropped to the bench after starting the win at Wigan, as Redknapp opted for a midfield quartet of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Scott Parker and Rafael van der Vaart.
In defence, Ledley King was fit to lead the side out again, partnering Younes Kaboul in the centre with Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker in the full-back slots.
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Arsenal, on the other hand, came into the derby with defensive concerns, with Per Mertesacker their only recognised centre-back due to injuries to Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny.
Alex Song was consequently forced to drop into the rearguard alongside Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, who was preferred to Andre Santos at left-back.
That reshuffle meant that 20-year-old Francis Coquelin started his second league game of the season in the holding midfield role – his first start being the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford – behind Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie.
Tottenham kicked off as favourites and it was they who had the first clear sight of goal after six minutes.
Adebayor raced from the halfway line into the penalty box but, when Arsenal scrambled the ball away from him, they immediately gifted possession back to their hosts just outside their own area.
Van der Vaart’s simple pass put Parker clean through on goal, but the 30-year-old was denied his first Tottenham goal by the onrushing Szczesny from eight yards.
Having survived that early scare, Arsenal then enjoyed a good period of pressure themselves, with Walcott’s deflected effort curling around the outside of the post with Brad Friedel at full stretch.
There was some respite for Spurs as Bale hared down the left and cut the ball across for Van der Vaart, who got his feet in a tangle and miscued.
However, the Gunners went close again in the 22nd minute as Walker was adjudged to have fouled Van Persie just outside the left edge of the box, and Arteta flashed an inswinging free kick across the goalmouth.
The visitors’ best chance to take the lead came eight minutes later, though, as Van Persie raced around Kaboul and pulled the ball back from the by-line, but Gervinho shot wide of the left post with Friedel already diving the wrong way.
With three central midfielders against Tottenham’s two, Arsenal were enjoying better possession, smothering Modric and bringing their forward players into the game more.
However, it was Spurs who took the lead six minutes before the break, in controversial circumstances.
Adebayor spotted Van der Vaart lurking unmarked on the left of the penalty box and, having picked him out, Tottenham’s Dutchman appeared to control the ball with the use of a hand before sending a low volley arrowing past Szczesny.
Tottenham’s goal hero could even have been dismissed after his strike because, having already been booked for a late tackle on Gibbs, some referees might have brandished a second yellow card for the exuberant celebration that followed.
As it was, the goal stood and Spurs went into the break with their full complement of players – in addition to an invaluable lead.
The advantage was to be short-lived, though, as Arsenal equalised within five minutes of the restart.
There seemed to be no danger as Kaboul headed a cross clear, but Song was given all the time in the world to pick up the loose ball, drive into the area and set up Ramsey, who lashed the ball home from close range.
With renewed confidence and their extra man in midfield, the Gunners rapidly took control, forcing Tottenham into a five-minute rearguard action.
However, in keeping with the match as a whole, it was Tottenham who created the next opening, putting Adebayor through one on one against the keeper inside the area – only for Szczesny to save again.
Despite that opening, Redknapp opted for a tactical change, with Sandro coming on to replace Van der Vaart.
Arsenal were forced into their own change soon after, as Sagna crashed into the advertising hoardings after a fair challenge from Assou-Ekotto, leaving the pitch on a stretcher to be replaced by Carl Jenkinson – and Wenger then swapped Walcott for Benayoun.
With 20 minutes to go, Tottenham suddenly upped the intensity, and were rewarded for a spell of pressure with a memorable derby goal, as Walker picked up a loose ball in midfield and lashed a 30-yard screamer past Szczesny.
The young full-back’s first Tottenham goal evoked memories of Danny Rose’s volley against Arsenal at White Hart Lane in 2009/10 – which also ended 2-1.
And, moments later, Bale was inches away from making it 3-1, side-footing the ball past the Gunners’ keeper but seeing his effort slide wide of the right post.
As Arsenal pressed, Spurs played on the break, and with seven minutes left Bale was at it again, bursting past two players down the left flank and teeing up Defoe, whose shot towards the top corner forced another flying save from Arsenal’s Polish keeper.
Redknapp made his final changes, withdrawing the tired legs of Adebayor and Parker and introducing Jake Livermore and Vedran Corluka to see out the game.
Nerves were at breaking point as the fourth official signalled five minutes of added time, and Tottenham were forced to defend a succession of balls into the box in the final moments – but the final whistle blew to confirm a Spurs victory.
Tottenham: Friedel, Assou-Ekotto, King, Kaboul, Walker, Bale, Modric, Parker (Corluka 90), Van der Vaart (Sandro 63), Defoe, Adebayor (Livermore 84).
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna (Jenkinson 68), Mertesacker, Song, Gibbs, Coquelin, Gervinho, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Benayoun 71), Van Persie