André Villas-Boas's comments from his Thursday press conference proved prescient. As the Tottenham Hotspur manager hinted that he was ready to give a rare start to Emmanuel Adebayor in this derby, he explained that an "individual's motivation" against his former club could be harnessed to great effect. "It was why we also used Adebayor in the game versus Manchester City last Sunday," Villas‑Boas said, with a nod towards the Togolese's other previous English employer. But, he noted, there were two sides to the coin. "It can also have a negative effect," he warned.
Both came up here, although the negative moment that disfigured the game from a Tottenham point of view will stick in the memory. Spurs were in charge until the 17th minute, leading through Adebayor's tap-in and having gone close to a second goal through Aaron Lennon. Arsenal were all over the place and, not unusually, there had been signs of angst in the crowd.
Villas-Boas might have been congratulating himself for his boldness. For only the second time this season, he had started with Adebayor up alongside Jermain Defoe in a 4-4-2 formation, and the previous time had been against Maribor in the Europa League. With respect to the Slovenian club, this was a rather more rarefied occasion.
Then it happened. Stretching recklessly into a tackle in midfield that he did not have to make, Adebayor crashed his studs high into Santi Cazorla to send the little Arsenal schemer spinning. Howard Webb had shown Adebayor two of the three red cards that he had previously incurred in English football and there was no doubt that the dubious hat-trick was coming his way. Villas-Boas's gameplan lay in tatters.
The scuffle that preceded the decision was incidental, Gareth Bale clashing with Jack Wilshere and holding out his hand flat and low to indicate that he considered the Arsenal midfielder to be nothing more than a shortie. If that was immature stuff in the heat of the moment, the description also fitted Adebayor's decision-making and, not for the first time, there could be serious questions about his self-control when hot blood courses through his system.
Even his goal celebration had felt edgy, although it had nothing on the infamous knee slide that he performed in front of the travelling Arsenal support for City in September 2009, after he had run the length of the pitch. This time, he vaulted the advertising hoardings and made for the Tottenham fans in the corner of the stadium but, first, he had to skirt past some supporters in red. They were not happy.
Adebayor did not have the sense to get dismissed near to the tunnel. His trudge from the far touchline seemed to take an age and it gave Arsenal's season‑ticket holders plenty of time to wave their booklets at him like imaginary cards. It is handy that they are red. Adebayor crossed himself repeatedly as he disappeared down the tunnel and the abuse rained down.
At City on Sunday, in his first league start of the season, Adebayor was booked and there was also a moment when he checked Pablo Zabaleta to bloody the City defender's nose; it felt as if he was at the edge of his temper. His loss of the plot here was comprehensive and it may have hurt him that his idol and former Arsenal team-mate Thierry Henry was in the crowd. Then again, it may not.
Adebayor has endured a difficult time since his return to White Hart Lane on a permanent transfer from City, after his season-long loan the last time out. He had expected to be the main man; instead, he has played second fiddle to Defoe and the frustration has simmered.
Villas-Boas, however, still needs him – his options up front do not run particularly deep – and it was this knowledge that underpinned what was a remarkable post-match defence of the player. It would have surprised no one, least of all the travelling Tottenham fans, to hear Villas-Boas, at the very least, suggest that Adebayor had cost the team. Instead, he went to the other extreme and it was difficult to know which of his assertions led to the more acutely arched eyebrows: the one about how Tottenham, in his view, had controlled the game from start to finish or those that related to Adebayor.
Villas-Boas said that the red card had changed nothing; that Cazorla had simply been too slippery and the sending-off could have happened to anybody. He was not annoyed at Adebayor and the player himself did not have to consider any apology. Villas-Boas also said: "You want the players to be strong and brave."
Perhaps, he has learned his lessons from Chelsea, his previous club, when a confrontational approach led to friction. On one level, it may have been possible to admire Villas-Boas for his loyalty to one of his own. Yet the overriding impression was of a man attempting to defend the indefensible and, unwittingly or otherwise, managing to insult his audience in the process. The contrast to his pre-match remarks was vivid.