Spurs need more steel in midfield, Arsenal are still dozing at set-pieces and Harry Redknapp's side are more equipped to make fourth
Rarely over Arsène Wenger's lengthy tenure at Arsenal has he taken his team across the capital with the watching world sensing they arrived at White Hart Lane as underdogs. After all, the Frenchman had lost only four of his 36 previous meetings in all competitions with Spurs. Yet, in slipping to defeat, the Arsenal manager's biggest regret might have been that Tottenham Hotspur hardly needed to play well to claim the spoils.
The visitors had enjoyed the majority of first‑half possession, creating clear-cut chances – most notably for Gervinho – and had shown character to recover their deficit and reimpose their poise in the early exchanges of the second period. Yet, despite the tidy performances mustered by the likes of Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal still lost to stretch their winless run away from home to eight games. That is their worst sequence since the winter of 1991‑92.
The reality is that there remains a fragility to this team's defending which is not likely to be swiftly solved and that sense of vulnerability will nag away in tight contests against pedigree opponents. Spurs only clicked sporadically on Sunday but Arsenal always felt the likelier to crack. Wenger had conceded in the build-up that his side were "still in the rebuilding phase with our confidence" after recent away drubbings. This result will not have helped, even if his players' performance, at times, deserved better.
Harry Redknapp had been bold in his team selection, omitting Sandro and selecting Jermain Defoe to partner Emmanuel Adebayor. But the inclusion of free spirits in Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric in midfield alongside the leggy running of Gareth Bale left only Scott Parker, himself keen to gallivant upfield at times, across the centre as defensive cover. At first glance it appeared a wonderfully attack-minded decision, inviting Tottenham to pour forward at every opportunity and unsettle vulnerable opponents.
But Arsenal actually outnumbered their hosts in the middle, their narrow trio of neat, ball-playing midfielders drifting into pockets of space around their counterparts and enjoyed too much possession for Spurs' comfort. Indeed, the home side's opening goal felt rather against the run of play, with Van der Vaart's inability to track Alex Song's burst after the interval critical in Arsenal's equaliser. Sandro's introduction 64 minutes in felt like an admission that the tactic of all-out attack had rather backfired, with the Brazilian's subsequent contribution to the winning goal labouring the point.
There was to be no goal against Arsenal for Emmanuel Adebayor as a Tottenham Hotspur striker but his former team-mates still departed bruised by the Togo forward's contribution. A player who once delighted Arsenal's fans at Tottenham's expense, and was briefly loathed at both north London clubs during his sojourn with Manchester City, is now reinventing himself as a Spur and must have craved personal reward here. Yet the nearest he came to considering how best to celebrate a goal – there would surely not have been a repeat of the end-to-end dash and slide on the knees in front of the visiting support which almost sparked a riot at Eastlands back in 2009 – was an opportunity early in the second half which was choked wonderfully by Wojciech Szczesny. Instead, he became a provider, drifting into space to deliver the precise cross which was dispatched wonderfully by Van der Vaart just before the interval. Adebayor will have an opportunity to make his own mark at the Emirates later in the season. But, as Ledley King had suggested prior to kick-off, "it's just nice to have him finally on our side now because, when he's on his game, he's unplayable".
Wojciech Szczesny had revealed his team's recent switch from zonal to man-to-man marking in the build-up as Wenger attempted to address far too much lax defending over recent times though, if that had been born of a desire to tighten up at conventional set pieces, then Arsenal are still prone to dawdle, even at throw-ins. The sloppiness Wenger has so grown to fear reared up again 17 minutes from time when Sandro was allowed to charge away from the dawdling Ramsey and Mikel Arteta and collect Benoît Assou-Ekotto's throw, the Brazilian reaching the by-line before delivering his cut-back. In the chaos that ensued, Kyle Walker fizzed his shot from distance into the corner. Szczesny, so excellent in denying Parker, Van der Vaart and Adebayor previously, and subsequently Defoe, will have felt he might have done better, though he should never have been exposed like this.
These clubs will only be judged properly and accurately at the end of the season but, at present, it seems far likelier that Tottenham's challenge for the fourth Champions League qualification place will be more prolonged and coherent than that offered by Arsenal. The visitors may have impressed at times here but they remain prone to slipping back into bad habits: over-playing in the attacking third, lacking concentration at the back. They lie 15th, already some eight points of fourth-placed Newcastle United, six from a resurgent Liverpool and five from their bitter rivals across London. Spurs, like Arsenal, have been denied key players already this term but they have now recovered from their own dire start to rattle off fourth successive wins. Luka Modric is still theirs, and Adebayor and Parker are fine additions. If they can eke more games from King, and welcome back Michael Dawson as soon as possible, then Harry Redknapp's squad appears to boast far more depth than that of Wenger.