North London Derby: Has Tottenham Finally Caught Up to Arsenal?
On a day Gooners can consider a universal anomaly, Tottenham Hotspur managed to stage a stirring comeback from 2-0 down to shock Arsenal with a 3-2 come-from-behind win.
Courtesy of in-form duo Gareth Bale and Rafael Van Der Vaart, with a little extra help from Younes Kaboul.
Given how Spurs have fared in the North London Derby for the past 20 or so years, it was something out of the ordinary. But the truth is that based on the law of averages (and by the same token, the law of large numbers), Tottenham would eventually start winning some games.
So is it just that? An anomaly?
Or have Spurs finally turned a corner and caught up to Arsenal?
Will St. Totteringham's Day not arrive this year?
Well-Built Spurs Team
Putting aside any anti-Spurs bias for a moment, it is undeniable that Harry Redknapp has built a very capable side.
And one that, with a little more experience, and a better manager—one like Arsene Wenger—could lead to the top of the league. After all, from front to back, Redknapp has a team full of very talented players that would get into top four sides with varying levels of success.
Between the sticks, he has the normally reliable Heurelho Gomes. After a rough start with English football, the Brazilian has adjusted well and is widely considered one of the best 'keepers in England.
In central defense, they are stocked with talent that is experienced and fundamentally rock solid when not injured. Choosing between the oft-injured but robust 6'2" Ledley King, 6'3" Michael Dawson, 6'3" Younes Kaboul, 6'4" Vedran Corluka and the unpopular former Arsenal captain, 6'0" WIlliam Gallas, they have abundant size and strength.
Compared to Arsenal's backline options of the leaner 6'0" Thomas Vermaelen, 6'1" Laurent Koscielny and 6'2" Sebastien Squillaci, they look like giants. And for Kaboul's goal and match clincher, he appeared to be a man among boys, outmuscling and outjumping everyone on Arsenal's team.
At the fullback positions, Spurs have the capable, if slightly unremarkable, duo of Alan Hutton on the right and Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the left.
Up front, Spurs are stacked with players that offer a combination of size, speed and finishing. Between 6'7" giant Peter Crouch, the slightly smaller 6'2" Russian Roman Pavlyuchenko and the even smaller 5'7" Jermaine Defoe (Not to mention the once-brilliant Robbie Keane and Mexican Wunderkind Giovanni Dos Santos), they are not lacking in genuine quality.
But Spurs' strength is concentrated in the middle, where they are stacked with loads of talent. Whether it's in defensive midfield, centre midfield, attacking midfield or the wings.
At defensive midfield, Spurs have Tom Huddlestone, Wilson Palacios and Sebastian Bassong, who can also play in defense. Each of these players is built rock-solid, are strong in the tackle and have quite serviceable technical skills.
Additionally, Jermaine Jenas, who would be considered more of a "box-to-box" midfielder, is the perfect bridge between defence and attack.
But the heart and soul of this Spurs side are in their attacking midfield and wingers. With the recent addition of the magnificent Rafael Van Der Vaart, Tottenham's attacking options in midfield are now as impressive as most, if not all, the teams in the top half of the table.
In technicians-cum-fantasistas Luka Modric and Van Der Vaart (not to mention Niko Krancjar), Spurs have central midfield options that would be welcome and compete for places at any Top four club.
Moreover, on the wings, Spurs have pace and skill coming from both sides with Aaron Lennon streaking in on the right and the in-form Gareth Bale coming in from the left side.
It's no surprise that players like Crouch and Pavlyuchenko have thrived in this system. With constant service coming from Modric and Van Der Vaart in the middle, and crosses being pinged in from both flanks via Lennon and Bale, this team is a target man's dream come true.
Do Spurs have a chance of finishing above Arsenal at the end of the season?
Where Do They Stand Now?
Having said all that, have Spurs caught up to Arsenal yet?
In a word: No.
Despite their dramatic victory over Arsenal in one of many North London Derbies, they are still not quite there yet. They have taken great strides in moving up in the footballing world, even going so far as to usurp Liverpool from the traditional Top four sides and wresting that fourth Champions League spot.
They've even shown that they can compete (and occasionally win) against other top European sides, like a Rafa Benitez-led Inter Milan.
But just like it's just a little too early to say whether Arsenal's youth project has succeeded or failed, it is also a little premature to label Tottenham contenders after their comeback against Arsenal.
After all, they are still six points behind leaders Chelsea and Manchester United, and four points adrift of Arsenal at the moment. And in the English Premier League, consistency accounts for a lot.
And so far, Spurs haven't shown that they can compete in the face of congested fixtures mounting against them. Eventually, as their over-reliance on Bale, Modric and Van Der Vaart start to rear its ugly head, they'll realize the real need for a deep bench and reliable backups.
Especially if they advance in the champions league and are inundated with important games towards the end of the season.
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp wondered aloud, suggesting that his side is good enough to compete for the title this year, especially since Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are struggling at the moment.
But one victory does not make a champion, and Spurs are actually still quite a distance away from their crosstown rivals, much less the reigning champions. And it's not even as close as Redknapp suggests.
So it appears that although there is no immediate danger of not celebrating St. Totteringham's Day this season, it may come a little bit later during the year.
After Lasagne-gate, it was official. With Tottenham, there's one thing for sure: they'll cock it up in the end.
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