Arsenal vs. Tottenham: 10 Lessons Learned from the North London Derby

Mohamed Al-Hendy@Mo_HendyCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2012

Arsenal vs. Tottenham: 10 Lessons Learned from the North London Derby

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    Comeback of the Season? I'd say so.

    Just when Arsenal were staring defeat and despair in the face at 2-0, they roared back to a 5-2 win to secure a memorable victory over their eternal rivals in what is sure to go down as one of the best North London derbies in NLD history.

    But what went wrong in the first place for Arsenal to go down 2-0, and what went wrong for Spurs that led them to concede five goals at the Emirates?

    Breaking down the game's key moments, there are many lessons to be learned for both teams as they seek to improve down the stretch and meet their goals for the remainder of the season.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto Was Awful

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    I don't know if it was because he was just returning from surgery, but Benoit Assou-Ekotto looked nothing like the composed defender he's been for the majority of the season with Tottenham.

    Against Arsenal, Benoit Assou-Ekotto was at fault for at least three of Arsenal's goals; some might feel inclined to stretch that to four.

    First, his clearance in the build-up to Robin van Persie's goal gave the Arsenal striker the opportunity to set up his equalizer for the Gunners.

    Ideally, it would've been nice if Scott Parker and Luka Modric prevented him from scoring after BAE's mistake, but by that point, it was too late.

    Next, BAE was absolutely worked by the likes of Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky. It's unfortunate that he was left rather isolated by his fellow defenders on this one, but his inability to pressure Sagna on his cross or really commit to either player cost Spurs another goal.

    BAE's biggest mistake came on Arsenal's fourth goal. Despite being well ahead of Theo Walcott, BAE hardly challenged his run down the field, allowed him to race past him and failed to even alert Scott Parker to cover for his poor defending. Truly atrocious defending by BAE on this one.

    Finally, BAE was at fault on Arsenal's fifth goal as he allowed Theo Walcott, who was technically his man, to split Tottenham's centre-backs and score with a good finish. BAE was nowhere to be found on this one.

    By no means was Arsenal's victory (and Tottenham's loss) completely down to the poor play of BAE, but he'll need to improve dramatically from this performance in future games.

    Again, I suspect he wasn't fully fit, and if he wasn't, it may have been better to go with Danny Rose on this one, who likely would've handled Arsenal's pacy wingers with at least more energy and commitment.

    Of course though, as well all know, hindsight is 20/20 and you can't fault Harry Redknapp for selecting his first-choice left-back if there was enough evidence to indicate he was fit.

Michael Dawson > Younes Kaboul

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    Tottenham have conceded only one goal in the seven games Michael Dawson has played in since he returned from injury. Their record with Dawson in the lineup? Four wins, three draws, zero losses.

    So why on earth was Harry Redknapp moved to select Younes Kaboul ahead of Dawson? Kaboul has had a good season and has improved a great deal; no one is doubting that. But Dawson is pure quality; quality that Kaboul likely will never reach.

    It's not fair to say that Dawson would've prevented Tottenham from conceding any goals today. As already stated, many of the goals were the fault of Assou-Ekotto or other Tottenham players.

    But Kaboul certainly did not inspire confidence with his performance throughout the game, and I'd point to the fourth and fifth goals for Arsenal as one where he made huge, costly mistakes for Spurs.

    On the fourth goal, Kaboul's misplaced clearance forced him to race back to catch up with Robin van Persie, and his inability to tackle the Dutch talisman allowed RVP to make the assist for Theo Walcott's first goal.

    On the fifth goal, Younes Kaboul was very late in moving up, and it was this lateness that allowed Walcott to stay onside and score.

    There's no doubt this was a poor performance for all involved in Tottenham's defense; even Ledley King could've done more on the third goal for Tottenham, while Scott Parker had a bad game too (more on that later).

    But going forward, Redknapp would be wise to acknowledge where Younes Kaboul actually ranks among Spurs' centre-backs.

Bacary Sagna's Quality Shines

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    There was much talk prior to this game that Kyle Walker was beginning to surpass Bacary Sagna in terms of quality. 

    Today, Sagna showed that the two right-backs are still far apart.

    In the first half, Sagna kept Gareth Bale in his back pocket, forcing Bale to attempt to attack in other parts of the field in the first half (such as down the middle for the penalty).

    In the second half, he was switched to the right flank to avoid having to battle Sagna—such was the degree to which Sagna was neutralizing Bale, that Redknapp felt he needed to switch flanks.

    But Sagna didn't just excel defensively. He scored the key header to open the scoring for Arsenal, ironically beating Bale to the ball, and his cross allowed Tomas Rosicky to score the third goal.

    And with no one attacking for Tottenham down his flank in the second half, Sagna was able to press up and get more involved in his team's offense.

    Excellent game from one of the world's best right-backs.

Tomas Rosicky Rolls Back the Years

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    I'll admit, I'm guilty of criticizing Tomas Rosicky as no longer being good enough for Arsenal's big games.

    And to be honest, I still wouldn't have started him against AC Milan at the San Siro; his game just isn't dynamic enough any longer for that kind of stage.

    But Sunday, Rosicky finally repaid the faith Arsene Wenger has shown in consistently selecting him this season, and vindicated the Arsenal fans who continued to believe in his ability.

    Tomas Rosicky consistently bombed forward in midfield to get involved in his team's play, and his linking up with Bacary Sagna on Arsenal's third goal was poetry in motion.

    His header earlier in the game also forced an excellent save from Brad Friedel, and signaled his intentions from the very start. 

Theo Walcott: A Tale of Two Halves

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    Many have hailed Theo Walcott as Arsenal's Man of the Match for this North London Derby, including In my opinion, the best title you could give Walcott would be "Man of the Second Half," because he was rather abysmal in the first half.

    In the first half, Walcott looked a winger extremely short on confidence, as shown in his poor decision-making to pass to Robin van Persie when he could've run through on goal to create a much more dangerous scoring opportunity for his team.

    Additionally, his crosses were not up to par and often sailed over all of his teammates.

    In the second half though, we saw a completely different Walcott. His raced past BAE and Scott Parker to cheekily lob the ball over Friedel, and excellently finish from a through lob given to him by Alexander Song. 

    Here's the thing about Walcott: He's no game-changer, at least not in my opinion. If you're looking for a moment of brilliance, I wouldn't bet on Walcott to be the one to provide it.

    But when his team is ascending, he can be the one to put the nail in the coffin. If Arsenal's offense is flowing at the highest level, you can bet Walcott will be getting in on the goal-scoring.

    Indeed, it's no surprise that Walcott has performed best in Arsenal's biggest routs: He assisted three goals in Arsenals 7-1 rout of Blackburn, scored in Arsenal's 5-3 win over Chelsea, and scored twice today against Tottenham.

    Walcott is a good player, but it seems unlikely he'll ever shake off the inconsistency that has always prevented him from being regarded as one of the world's best wingers.

    He and Aaron Lennon are bound to share the same fate: They'll blow you away every once in a blue moon, and contribute enough in a season to justify receiving a decent amount of playing time, but they're simply not good enough to reach the levels of the Arjen Robbens, Franck Riberys and Gareth Bales of world football.

Robin Van Persie: The Best Pure Striker in the World

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    It's hard to say this is a lesson we learned from this game; the truth is, most of us already knew long before the North London Derby.

    But it doesn't hurt that RVP reaffirms his reputation nearly every time he steps on a football pitch.

    Against Tottenham, RVP scored a goal and provided an assist for Theo Walcott's first goal. But in truth, his contribution to the game was so much more than that.

    First, his goal was a moment of pure class. I can spend all the time in the world blaming BAE for poor clearance, and Scott Parker for not closing RVP down well enough; in the end, the truth is that 95 percent of strikers won't score that goal.

    Only an elite group, to which RVP belongs, has the ability and poise to score a goal like the one he scored.

    Next, his assist to Walcott came after he had done all the hard work for the winger and created a scoring opportunity almost out of nothing. 

    He forced both Ledley King and Younes Kaboul to attempt to close him down in vain, and even managed to distract Scott Parker long enough to open a clear lane for Walcott to run into and score.

    And needless to say, RVP was regularly involved in his team's play, playing the target man role to perfection.

    It's a shame Arsenal's season has been so up-and-down; were they more consistent, Robin van Persie would surely be in the Ballon D'Or discussion.

Scott Parker: Poor Discipline from the England Captain Candidate

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    I warned ahead of the North London Derby that Scott Parker would need to stop picking up needless bookings if he was going to avoid hurting Spurs and pick up a suspension.

    So much for that.

    Scott Parker was sent off with one of the most needless red cards I have ever seen in my life.

    First off, he somehow managed to avoid picking up a yellow card for a bad tackle on Robin van Persie early in the game, which was pinned onto Luka Modric.

    For some reason, rather than count his blessings, Scott Parker thought it would be wise to complain about a no-call earlier up the field—and was duly punished for his stupidity.

    Rather than play a more cautious game from here on out, Parker continued to make tough tackles. I credit him for sticking to his game, but the tackle that got him sent off was downright idiotic.

    Why charge in on an Arsenal player not even in your half of the field when you're down 5-2 late in the game with no chance of a comeback?

    Again, I realize the heart and determination involved in staying active even when the game looks way beyond your team's reach.

    But there's a difference between being determined and being stupid, and Scott Parker crossed the stupid line on this one.

    That makes five yellow cards in Parker's last five games—not a disciplinary record to be proud of.

Redknapp Got His Tactics Right; Until Half Time Anyway

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    It's really unfortunate that Tottenham lost this match, because Harry Redknapp did select the right tactics for this game.

    Though his decision to play Kaboul over Dawson was a mistake, Redknapp's decision to stick with the form striker in Louis Saha was creditable and looked to bear fruit when he scored the opening goal with an assist from Emmanuel Adebayor.

    Additionally, Redknapp's decision to stick with the 4-4-2 was the right decision, as it is the formation Tottenham have looked best in all season long. As much as I appreciate Rafael van der Vaart, there is no denying he takes away from Spurs' offensive play and flow with his positioning on the field.

    At halftime, I had no problem with the substitution of Saha for VDV. Though van der Vaart would go missing for the vast majority of the second half, tactically, it was a change that made sense.

    Saha had gone quiet and missing during Arsenal's comeback in the latter stages of the first half, and VDV could have easily been a game-changer with his quality on his comeback from injury.

    However, the substitution of Niko Kranjcar for Sandro is where Redknapp got it awfully wrong.

    Kranjcar was having a quiet game, there's no denying this. But if he was going to be taken off for anybody, it should've been Aaron Lennon, not Sandro.

    Bringing on Sandro gave Bacary Sagna complete freedom to act as a right winger for Arsenal, and this freedom was key in turning the momentum over to Arsenal and getting them their third goal.

    Lennon could've pinned Sagna back, and provided Tottenham with a threat down both flanks instead of just one. One only hopes Redknapp will learn from this mistake in the future.

Talk of a Title Challenge for Tottenham Should End

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    It's time to face the music: Spurs aren't good enough to challenge the Manchesters, not yet anyway.

    Maybe a summer transfer of Eden Hazard or Jan Vertonghen, who've both spoken positively of Spurs in recent weeks, will do the trick.

    Maybe Harry Redknapp will stay, which will convince Luka Modric to sign a new contract, and in turn will convince Adebayor and Bale to commit their future to White Hart Lane.

    Or maybe all of that is just wishful thinking.

    Whatever the case may be, this squad has not had the necessary mentality throughout the season to challenge for the EPL title.

    It showed at Anfield, when Tottenham settled for a poor 0-0 draw in a game they definitely had the talent to win. It showed at home against Wolves, when poor finishing and a little bit of bad luck condemned Spurs to a 1-1 draw and two dropped points.

    And most importantly, it showed against Arsenal in the North London Derby.

    No matter how resilient a team may be, it is inexcusable to give up a 2-0 lead over your biggest rivals. Arsenal played a great game, but nearly every goal conceded by Spurs was avoidable in some manner.

    Now is the time to focus on retaining third place in the league and aim for success in the FA Cup.

    It's not time for Spurs to take their foot off the gas pedal by any means; after all, Chelsea and Arsenal are only seven points behind Spurs now, and Arsenal's meltdown last season has shown that it is possible to lose such a margin of points down the stretch.

    But it's time for Spurs to be realistic, correct the mistakes in their team, and focus on keeping a comfortable distance between themselves and their London chasers.

    Effectively, this doesn't mean much in terms of approach; Spurs should and will still try to win every game they play in. But it means a more critical evaluation of the team's flaws, and taking measures to correct those flaws in the coming games.

Arsenal Should Go on to Secure Fourth Place

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    As I said in my introduction, Arsenal got the result they needed just when it seemed that they were set to hit an all-time low in the Arsene Wenger Era.

    Instead, they emerged from the NLD with arguably their best performance of the season.

    However, it's important not to get carried away and complacent. Chelsea, despite all their problems, are still hot on Arsenal's tail, and will likely push the Gunners all the way in the race for fourth place.

    Arsenal need to put out their best possible performance against AC Milan in the return leg of their Champions League matchup, then center their focus on retaining fourth place in the EPL.

    If they do, they'll be able to escape this season with dignity, and the hope that Wenger will invest thoroughly enough in the summer to turn Arsenal into title contenders once again.


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