The Arsenal Monday verdict: Are two decades of dominance over Spurs at an end?
It’s 48 hours since Arsenal’s north London derby nightmare, but the dust has not yet settled on an incredible match at the Emirates
ARSENE Wenger admitted a couple of years ago that defeats for his side can make him feel physically sick afterwards. Most Arsenal fans can empathize with him this week.
While 17 years is an awfully long time for Spurs to wait for a win in N5, for the red and white half of north London it did not feel quite as long as the rest of the weekend spent trying to blank out the nightmare vision of their bitter rivals’ triumph at the Emirates.
Try as hard as they could, the improbable, incomprehensible way that Spurs hit back from 2-0 down to win Saturday’s north London derby 3-2 could not be extinguished from the memory.
When the Gunners lost by the same scoreline to West Brom in September it was widely dismissed as a ‘freak’ result, a blip in Arsenal’s habitually seamless domination of home games at the Emirates.
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Remember this is a stadium where, before this season, Arsenal had lost just six times in 75 games. They have now lost three of the last five – the fortress is crumbling.
And while losses to the Baggies and Newcastle could be stomached despite their worrying causes and consequences, this game will take a lot longer to get out of the system. The DVD will be on sale at White Hart Lane this weekend and will be filling a fair few stockings in N17 and beyond in a month’s time.
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For Arsenal and Wenger, however, there is just the sobering reality that almost two decades of domination over their local rivals are possibly at an end.
For while Spurs unquestionably rode their luck on Saturday and could have been beaten out of sight in the first half, this was no freak result.
As if their presence in the Champions League this season was not proof enough, Saturday was the incontrovertible truth: Spurs are back as a force in the game and Arsenal fans had better get used to it.
They have now won the last two league derbies, and of the last eight north London tussles in all competitions, Spurs have won three, Arsenal just two and three have been draws.
One of those was the thrilling 4-4 game from two years ago, Harry Redknapp’s second match in charge at Tottenham, and a memory that still seemed to be in Arsenal’s minds on Saturday.
The way the Gunners surrendered a 4-2 lead with 90 minutes already on the clock that night has haunted Wenger and his players ever since, just as it has inspired Redknapp and Tottenham.
“Many times we have come out and dropped a little bit the urgency when we are ahead,” reflected a stunned Wenger after Saturday’s game.
“We wanted to keep the urgency and our defensive tightness alive, but it is not the first time that happens and it is one of our weaknesses.”
For once Wenger did not have the answers, he was as flummoxed by the defensive ineptitude of his side as much as the supporters and the watching nation were.
The irony of seeing their own former captain William Gallas holding Arsenal at bay at the finish was too much for some fans to bear. Again Arsenal have let an experienced player leave and replaced him with the untested and unproven.
Laurent Koscielny was lucky not to receive a third red card of the season on Saturday for his tackle on Gareth Bale. Younes Kaboul’s headed winner from the resulting free-kick proved punishment enough, however.
Complacency is a word that always bubbles under the surface at the Emirates, the feeling that Arsenal just have to turn up to win most games, a matter of ‘by how many’ rather than if.
Arrogance is a harsher word but it is hard not to level that accusation at a few of the players on Saturday. They just didn’t think they could be beaten at 2-0 up at home and in total control of the game. So they stopped playing, and they paid the price.
In truth, the defeats to West Brom and Newcastle were obvious warning signs that this kind of result was on the cards, but the pair of away wins at Wolves and Everton had dulled the senses.
Both those games had featured some stunning goalkeeping from Lukasz Fabianski, and also some poor finishing from Everton and Wolves who are two of the lowest scorers in the top flight.
Tottenham, like Arsenal, score goals as easily as they let them in, which is precisely why Redknapp’s side will not, despite his affirmations to the opposite, be lifting the Premier League trophy come May.
The question hanging over Arsenal this week is whether their own championship chances are any more realistic.
However, Chelsea’s even more surprising run of three defeats in four games has left things still open at the top, and the Gunners could reach the summit with victory at Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime.
Two points behind the leaders is far less a deficit than Arsenal have been used to at the end of November, but Wenger will know there is more to title campaigns than symmetry and statistics.
Teams need to show they can play like champions, and losing 2-0 leads at home, and three of their first seven league games at the Emirates, is a worrying sign of decline.
“We missed an opportunity to make a difference with the teams behind us. It is a big concern, a main concern,” Wenger reflected.
“They have the mentality, they want to win. But we have to analyse everything first….” he added, his words trailing off a little.
Wenger is as mystified as everybody else in football as to why his often brilliant, vibrant side do not have the winning mentality to end their five seasons without a trophy.
But Saturday is yet more proof to those who doubt the Frenchman’s methods that they still don’t have it. And that, come May, the Emirates trophy cabinet will still be bare.