x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Balance of power has shifted in North London to Tottenham after 2-1 win over Arsenal

Tottenham rubber-stamped their status as North London's form team with a derby win over their local rivals, Richard Jolly reports.

Gareth Bale, left, scored his 16th league goal of the season against Arsenal yesterday. Glyn Kirk / AFP
Gareth Bale, left, scored his 16th league goal of the season against Arsenal yesterday. Glyn Kirk / AFP

Arsene Wenger was in exile in Japan, Andre Villas-Boas was a teenager and the internet was in its infancy as a popular tool of communication.

Britain was about to mourn the former prime minister Harold Wilson, who had first entered the Cabinet two years after the Second World War; America had just lost Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the mother of JFK.

It was 1995, a year that has assumed a significance in North London when, for the last time, Tottenham Hotspur finished ahead of Arsenal.

Until now, surely.

Seven points clear of their rivals with 10 games remaining, Spurs have an imposing lead.

Should they retain it, the shift in the balance of power between the local rivals was rubber-stamped at White Hart Lane.

Arsenal's Invincibles clinched the title on enemy territory in 2004; dethroned as champions eight years ago, they may now be stripped of their status as ever presents in the Uefa Champions League.

They have already lost their leading players. This is the first of Wenger's long reign not to feature a truly great import.

Santi Cazorla has enviable class but even he does not rank alongside Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas or Robin van Persie, men with a radiant talent and a winning mentality.

Tottenham, more than most, can testify to Wenger's alchemy. In 1997 Emmanuel Petit was in a taxi, bound for White Hart Lane, when the Arsenal manager redirected him to Highbury, signed him and promptly won the league and cup double.

They were days when a succession of Tottenham managers were hired to try to emulate Wenger, whether the former playmaker Glenn Hoddle or their first continental coach, Christian Gross.

Now there is the sense Spurs are more secure in their identity. So, too, is Villas-Boas. Many are not in the first act of their managerial life at 35.

He is in his second, the newer, improved Villas-Boas, the student who has learnt the lessons of his harrowing time at Chelsea.

The humourless technocrat has been replaced by a smiling meritocrat.

The pronounced sense of fairness is how a manager who appeared to antagonise all and sundry at Stamford Bridge seems to have gained a personal touch.

If selection seemed a closed shop under Harry Redknapp, Villas-Boas has an open-door policy that brought its reward.

Gylfi Sigurdsson was the surprise choice, picked ahead of Lewis Holtby and Clint Dempsey, despite enduring an awkward debut season at White Hart Lane.

Yet the Icelander had excelled as a substitute at West Ham United on Monday and supplied Gareth Bale's opener.

The second came from Aaron Lennon, encouraged to leave his touchline more often and angling his run through the middle. It was a trademark move of former Gunners such as Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg. The quick-fire double, too, was reminiscent of Arsenal at their finest. Two goals in three minutes were ideal for Tottenham, sadly Identikit for Arsenal, who allowed runners to break into space behind them.

Rewind 17 months and Villas-Boas was criticised for deploying such a high defensive line. Arsenal exploited it when, with Van Persie at his imperious best, they won 5-3 at Stamford Bridge against his Chelsea.

Rewind 17 years, however, and Wenger inherited the team with the best offside trap in England, George Graham's back four snaring striker after striker.

One of them, Steve Bould, is now Wenger's assistant. It was second nature for them to step up arms aloft and look in expectation at the officials.

Now there is an unpredictability about their successors. A side who mounted a valiant bid to score an equaliser can struggle at the simplest of tasks, such as facing Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers in the domestic cups.

The metaphor for their difficulties has been supplied, strangely, by the manager's coat. Time and again, Wenger wrestles with the zip but, much like his offside trap, it only functions sometimes.

In the Tottenham back four, meanwhile, was the man of the match and the modern-day antithesis of Petit.

Wanted by Arsenal, Jan Vertonghen chose Spurs instead. Arsenal have spent years lamenting the ones that got away; the Belgian is one who never actually arrived.

If the much-missed Van Persie propelled Arsenal past Tottenham 12 months ago, now Bale is exerting the opposite effect. He is North London's resident superstar now, Spurs its form team.

Their 12-game unbeaten league run is their longest since Hoddle's heyday, in 1985.

These are historic heights they are reaching. Because, over the first 20 seasons of the Premier League, Arsenal averaged 18 more points per season.

Now they are seven behind, their advantage overturned and their future uncertain while Tottenham, to paraphrase Prince, are getting ready to party like it's 1995.

 

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