Tottenham's Derby Inexperience Showed Against Intelligent and Brave Arsenal
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Positive performances in their opening matches had seen Tottenham head into this North London derby confident about their chances against an Arsenal team who had started a tad slower.
On paper, the side Andre Villas-Boas fielded was capable of earning a result. At times, they looked like they might get one.
There were flashes of the threatening wing play that has proved so effective in recent weeks. Paulinho and Mousa Dembele strove to burst forward from midfield, while decent chances fell to Roberto Soldado and Jermain Defoe, among others.
None of these attacking moments quite came together with any real cohesiveness for Spurs. Arsenal's assured display made a mockery of the disquiet surrounding their lack of transfer activity.
Arsene Wenger's squad may prove to need extra depth down the line. But here was a reminder of what a fine football team their first choice lineup (and those immediately around it) is.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are becoming an increasingly tough unit to crack in central defense. Something Soldado and Spurs' attempted infiltrators frustratedly found out.
Aaron Ramsey seems to be in the process of coming of age as a midfielder of serious quality, the 22-year-old clearly having benefited from his substantial top-class apprenticeship.
In front and around him, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud unsettled and unpicked Spurs' defense with an enviable movement marked by exchanges of finesse and purpose. Demonstrated most expertly by Giroud's excellently crafted goal in which all three had a hand (or foot, rather).
Wenger's team is not flawless.
Despite some decent last-ditch defending, Spurs could have been dispatched before those nervy last few minutes ensued. Arsenal also looked suspect when attacked from the flanks.
Ultimately, their experience proved decisive. In possession and without, they combined calmness and intelligence with a winning bravery amid an Emirates Stadium atmosphere that was naturally desperate for them to triumph.
Half of Tottenham's featured players were getting their first taste of a North London derby. The extra intensity and pressure of the occasion undoubtedly proved more difficult than anything previously faced this season.
The quality of Spurs' recruits, coupled with the existing talent, was enough to beat Crystal Palace and Swansea. Against more challenging opposition, the work-in-progress nature of this team was slightly exposed.
Only slightly though.
A 1-0 loss is nothing to be ashamed about. As galling a defeat as it will be for Spurs' supporters, the fact that their team was still in it to the end was testament to their standard right now. After all, more experienced lineups were hammered 5-2 when visiting Ashburton Grove in the past two seasons.
There are areas that definitely need to be addressed.
Work still needs to be done in drilling the defense into a tighter unit. The best midfield configuration needs further contemplation, especially as it relates to creating goalscoring chances.
New signings Erik Lamela (who did not shy away from getting involved in his first appearance, albeit in a largely unremarkable fashion), Vlad Chiriches and Christian Eriksen's integration will not be aided by the upcoming international break.
At this early in the stage, such issues were all but inevitable (not including Etienne Capoue's unfortunate injury that forced him off). The challenges ahead for Villas-Boas should not be dismissed, but this defeat should not be too worrisome either.
For now, Arsenal remain the top boys in North London. Come the climax of the two club's next meeting in March, the ones who will be claiming the derby title will likely be one of this season's most captivating storylines.
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