It was always going to be about the north London derby on match day 28 of the Premier League. And while this particular edition lacked the drama and spice of many previous ones, the outcome was very sweet for Tottenham Hotspur. It was also another bitter pill for Arsenal in a season that has contained a whole medicine cabinet of them.
Per Mertesacker, in his second season at the Emirates, and Thomas Vermaelen, who has been there since 2009, have regularly been cited for defensive frailties this season and on Sunday they gave the Gunners’ faithful yet more cause for consternation.
In the space of two minutes they stood flat-footed and inept as simple through-balls released the pacey Gareth Bale and then Aaron Lennon for the goals that built a 2-0 half-time lead. Even though Mertesacker partially redeemed himself with a headed goal after the interval, Tottenham were not unduly stretched after that. Indeed the best chance in the final half-hour fell to Gylfi Sigurdsson who was clean through on goal but didn’t even shoot. His attempt to play in a team-mate proved a rare Spurs blunder.
Expertly marshalled by Andre Villas-Boas, whose use of Bale in a roaming central position behind the sole striker has become something of a master-stroke, Tottenham had many players who caught the eye. At the back that they had the necessary solidity to protect their lead, with Hugo Lloris producing a fine afternoon’s work in goal and Belgian international Jan Vertonghen excelling with a commanding, old-fashioned centre-half performance.
Arsenal had long viewed this fixture as one they really needed to win or at least draw to keep fourth place in their sights. Instead, they remain on 47 points, five behind Chelsea, with Spurs moving up to third on 54 points, and surely scenting the runner-up slot now given Manchester City’s rocky form of late.
Given that they look set to bow out of this season’s Champions League – and fail to qualify for next season’s – things are as bad at Arsenal as they have been in any season under Arsene Wenger, so it was fascinating to read a report in one English newspaper that an unnamed Middle East consortium is planning a $1 billion takeover of the club.
The BBC were quick to dismiss the story on the basis that the valuation was too high, while Wenger himself said a club is only “vulnerable” to a takeover “when you want to sell and need money.”
Whatever the truth, there can’t be a single Arsenal season-ticket holder who is happy with the high prices at the Emirates, the regular sales of high-quality players, the lack of trophies and Wenger’s failure to spend the funds he is given. They’d probably relish any kind of takeover.
Elsewhere, it was a fairly quiet weekend at Chelsea, where the fans didn’t give Rafael Benitez as hard a time as they might have done after he publicly criticised their behaviour. It also helped him that Demba Ba’s goal was enough for a win over West Brom. Bizarrely, you almost think the fans would be more pleased to watch Chelsea lose (so long as it didn’t jeopardise their top-four chances). Then, they could really lay into Rafa.
Luis Suarez scored another gorgeous hat-trick for Liverpool away at Wigan, while there was a surprise one for Manchester United’s cultured and versatile Shinji Kagawa as Norwich were ripped apart at Old Trafford. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do against the big clubs if he gets more game-time next season.
Finally, don’t forget QPR, who scored only their third win of the season by beating Southampton. There’s still a heck of a lot to do for them to avoid relegation but the addition of Loic Remy has given them an edge of class they didn’t have before, so you never know.