x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon helps Tottenham win North London derby

Seven points clear with 10 games remaining. That for Tottenham Hotspur is the key statistic, perhaps the only statistic, reports Jonathan Wilson from White Hart Lane.

Michael Dawson, second right, the Tottenham captain, argues with Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen, third left. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo
Michael Dawson, second right, the Tottenham captain, argues with Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen, third left. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo

LONDON // Seven points clear with 10 games remaining. That for Tottenham Hotspur is the key statistic, perhaps the only statistic.

Yes, Chelsea are two points below them and Manchester City just two points clear, but this season now has become not just about Uefa Champions League qualification but also about finally, after 18 years, finishing above their North London rivals.

For Arsenal, meanwhile, things are so bleak they may have to forget about local bragging rights; far more significant is the need to overhaul Chelsea, who stand five points above them in fourth.

Their financial model is predicated on Champions League qualification and if they fail to make it, the consequences could be severe.

Tottenham fans may be nervous but, after 12 games unbeaten - their best run since 1984/85 - their manager, Andre Villas-Boas, was intent on increasing their advantage next week, when Spurs play Liverpool and Arsenal do not have a fixture.

"Last year at this time Arsenal had a difference of seven points to Tottenham and we know how it finished," he said.

"Obviously this time the motivations are different. They are on a low at the moment and for them to jump back is difficult."

What must frustrate Arsenal is that - yet again - they were the architects of their own downfall.

"What happened today has been repeated so many times in the big games," said Arsene Wenger. "We made it difficult for ourselves. We're not efficient in those decisive zones - not at the front and not at the back. We played offside in a position where we should never pay offside."

Tottenham simply looked better organised and more disciplined than Arsenal and that, ultimately, is why they won. The trend in modern football is to press and play with a high offside line and it is something Tottenham have done exceptionally well this season, conceding fewer shots to the opposition than any other Premier League team.

But a backline cannot just push up when it feels like it. Advance when an opponent has time to measure a pass and it is asking for trouble, sending your momentum one way as the ball goes the other, leaving yourself vulnerable to runners from deep, their momentum going the same way as the ball, getting behind you.

The squeeze can only come incrementally, when the ball is in motion or when a player is under pressure and cannot measure his pass.

Arsenal actually began very well yesterday.

As Wenger said "there were many positives". The first half-hour was arguably as well as they have played this year.

They pressed well and held possession well. They kept Gareth Bale quiet.

But this is an Arsenal side prone to self-destruction; again and again they play well and undermine themselves with a moment of laxity - and it happened yet again.

Gyfli Sigurdsson, used on the left to allow Bale to play centrally, had the simplest task to slide a pass between Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker as the Arsenal backline advanced.

Bale ran on and knocked in a casual finish with the outside of his left foot - his 16th league goal of the season.

That was bad but they made the same mistake two minutes later. This time Scott Parker played the pass, Aaron Lennon raced away from Nacho Monreal and behind Vermaelen, rounded Wojciech Szczesny and rolled the ball in.

Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen, by contrast, were exceptional, even after Bale had deflected a Mertesacker header into his own net five minutes into the second half. It would not be true to say Spurs were never threatened after that but there was probably more anxiety in the stands than on the pitch.

 

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