The scale has tipped in North London, but for how long nobody can know. White is the color of the present, but the future could be all about green.
Tottenham Hotspur defeated Arsenal 2-1 on Sunday in the North London Derby to move within two points of second-placed Manchester City in the English Premier League table. Probably more to the point for Spurs supporters, Tottenham also extended their lead to seven points over their neighbors and rivals from a few miles down the street.
And perhaps most pertinent of all, the match told a tale of two clubs heading in decidedly different directions.
Eighteen years ago, Tottenham Hotspur finished seventh in the final 1994-95 Premier League table. Arsenal, under caretaker manager Stewart Houston for the season's final few months, stuttered home in 14th position. Then came Arsene Wenger, three league titles, four FA Cups, two doubles and a UEFA Champions League final as Tottenham Hotspur fell behind, at times in the footballing wilderness.
At times between 1995 and the present, Spurs had seemed capable—sometimes even likely—to displace their North London neighbors. This time, though, it's more than that.
As Welsh goal-scoring wizard Gareth Bale continues his streak of good form, and first-year manager Andre Villas-Boas continues to pump his fists in triumph along the sidelines, Tottenham look almost certain to top Arsenal this time. The Gunners, meanwhile, appear doomed to finish outside the top four for the first time in Wenger's era.
Last fall, Arsenal's comeback 5-2 victory over Spurs at the Emirates Stadium helped hold back the onrushing white tide. But there was no comeback in store this time, and in victory, Spurs have claimed the upper hand.
Bale, third in the Premier League with 16 goals this season, opened the scoring in the 37th minute. Taking advantage of slack Arsenal defending, the 23-year-old glided behind the back line, took control of a diagonal through-ball and beat keeper Wojciech Szczesny with skill and ease.
It was his ninth goal in his last seven appearances in all competitions, and it stopped any momentum Arsenal had built with a solid opening half-hour.
Two minutes later, another defensive lapse allowed Aaron Lennon an opening for Tottenham's second. Beaten again, Szczesny could only wave his hands in disgust after Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen either fell asleep or became entranced with the opposition while ball-watching.
The inevitable fight-back arrived early in the second half. Per Mertesacker, at fault on Tottenham's first goal, connected with a free kick, and his header was redirected into the net by Bale.
Daniel Taylor @DTguardian
Wenger first in press conf: a 'massive challenge' now to catch Spurs. 'This (poor defending) has happened to us many times this season'3/3/2013, 6:44:46 PM
Even unwittingly, then, Bale was at the heart of it all as Tottenham took their most decisive step toward unseating Arsenal as North London's finest. That he'll likely leave either this summer or next can be no consolation for depressed Gooners.
Villas-Boas, only a year removed from humiliation at Stamford Bridge, now has his signature win at White Hart Lane (and that's not even counting the win at Old Trafford). Arsenal, on the other hand, are five points off fourth place and embroiled in a prolonged crisis that is unprecedented in Wenger's reign.
And yet hope remains, of a sort. With the news of a potential big-money takeover filtering through London this weekend (via Daily Telegraph), there comes the possibility that Arsenal could soon gain equal financial footing with their lavish-spending competitors.
Although another foreign buyout could bring with it legitimate questions about the identity of the club, any resulting injection of cash would draw an enthusiastic response. But the depressing reality for Arsenal is that a takeover is probably the best chance the Gunners have of halting Tottenham's forward momentum in this rivalry.
For now, until further notice, North London belongs to Bale, AVB and Tottenham.
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