In a massive Premier League game between bitter rivals jockeying for position atop the table, it would be Tottenham that would earn the three points and move into third place with a 2-1 win over Arsenal.
Behind Gareth Bale (who else?) and Aaron Lennon, Spurs would earn three points that will surely loom large in the fight for Champions League qualification.
The game was a rather cagey affair early on, with both teams battling for possession in the midfield and peppering the opposing defense with the occasional run or scoring opportunity. But in general, the first 30 minutes saw limited action and Arsenal generally controlling possession.
And then Tottenham struck. Guess who?
You guessed it, Bale. The scorching-hot winger was sent through on an incisive pass from Gylfi Sigurdsson and calmly chipped his shot past Wojciech Szczesny. It was his seventh goal in the past five Premier League games, and ninth goal in his last seven games total.
The man cannot be stopped.
Just a few moments later, Aaron Lennon would strike on an almost identical play, this time off a pass from Scott Parker. After Arsenal controlled play for the first 30 minutes, Tottenham raced to a 2-0 lead in the span of a few minutes.
Both plays were terrible failures by Arsenal's back line, a familiar lament for fans of the Gunners.
Give credit to the Gunners, though. Just five minutes into the second half, the away team cut the lead in half. Per Mertesacker would make up for some of Arsenal's earlier blunders in defense, heading home a corner.
Tottenham supporters were surely recalling the last two meetings between these teams, both won by Arsenal by a score of 5-2 after Spurs took an early lead. Last February, the Gunners won 5-2 after Tottenham went up 2-0, while this November, Arsenal recovered from a 1-0 deficit after Emmanuel Adebayor was shown a red card.
Was history about to repeat itself? Would a rejuvenated Arsenal team find a way to defeat Tottenham again?
Tottenham's worries were nearly subdued soon after, but Gareth Bale pushed a brilliant cross over the goal with his left foot. Then in the 69th minute, Sigurdsson would have a brilliant look at goal and could have poked a shot past Szczesny but instead chose to attempt a pass to Bale, which Mertesacker intercepted.
A minute later, Jermain Defoe would push a shot wide.
From there, Tottenham's defense would bend but it would not break. Even after six nervy minutes of stoppage time, Spurs were able to defend the lead and earn a vital three points, moving two points ahead of Chelsea for third place and seven ahead of Arsenal.
Gareth Bale, Tottenham: A-
Yes, he kept his torrid scoring streak going, getting Tottenham on the board early. But Bale was virtually nonexistent for the first 30 minutes, and seriously flubbed a chance to put Tottenham up 3-1 when he awkwardly tried to play a cross with his left foot rather than his weaker right.
As always, he put himself in dangerous positions, and this was overall a very solid performance for Bale. It just wasn't his top performance.
Arsenal's Back Line: D
Arsenal's back four were all kinds of confusing throughout this game. First, they insisted on playing a high line despite being unable to match the speed of Tottenham's wingers, leading to Bale's and Lennon's goals.
And truly, the defending was just sloppy on that, high line or not.
Then, we got to see Aaron Ramsey play right-back after Carl Jenkinson left the game. Ramsey didn't exactly hurt Arsenal, but it was obvious he was less than natural at the position. He is a midfielder, after all.
Mertesacker's goal and the fact that the Gunners held Tottenham scoreless in the second half (though Spurs did have several excellent chances) kept this grade from being an "F," but in general, Mertersacker, Jenkinson, Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal should be disappointed in their performance.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tottenham: B+
Sigurdsson was very active in this game, setting up Bale's early goal, and was generally forwarding the Tottenham attack in a positive manner.
Still, Sigurdsson let a few golden opportunities slip by him, just keeping him from earning an "A" grade. But he'll be pleased with his performance, as he should be.
Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, Arsenal: C-
Arsenal's three most dangerous offensive players (that started) were never a major threat in this game. Walcott made a few good runs out wide but was largely invisible when he drifted centrally. Giroud had a nice look or two at the goal but never looked like a real threat to put the ball into the net.
Arsenal's failures were on the back line, while midfielders like Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta generally played well. But Arsenal was never able to pair any movement with a quality final pass, touch or shot on goal.
And why didn't Lukas Podolski start out wide? Why not start him on the left flank, keep Cazorla atop the midfield and bring on Ramsey to play the Swiss Army Knife role if needed?
Arsenal's attack left too many questions unanswered on Sunday. In a game where possession was never an issue, the lack of quality chances for Arsenal and failure to complete the ones they did create was costly.
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