Tottenham have suffered a second 5 – 2 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates stadium inside nine months. The two defeats, however, are different as are the circumstances surrounding them. Both defeats have left Spurs deflated while Arsenal, once again, look forward as Arsene Wenger says, ‘with increasing confidence’. Andre Villas-Boas and Wenger, in their pre-match press conferences, both stressed the importance of the match as their clubs look towards qualification for next season’s Champions League with Villas-Boas acknowledging Spurs’ need to finish above Arsenal. Yesterday’s result doesn’t do much to improve the club’s aspirations for the season but in comparison to the defeat suffered last February, Spurs can take some positives.
26th February, 2012
Tottenham were in a positive frame of mind as they travelled the short distance down the Seven Sisters Road to meet Arsenal. They were third in the League, having had a convincing 5 – 0 win over Newcastle United in their previous home Premier League game. Arsenal had recovered from three League defeats in January but were still ten points behind Tottenham in fourth place. The match was crucial to both clubs, a win for Spurs would keep them within reach of the two Manchester clubs at the top of the table while Arsenal knew that defeat would almost certainly end their hopes of finishing third and automatic qualification for the Group stages of the Champions League.
Harry Redknapp had a full squad available to him and made only one change, in defence, from the team that had been so impressive against Newcastle a fortnight earlier.
18th November, 2012
Nine months on, Andre Villas-Boas’ team were in sixth place, a point ahead of Arsenal, having lost their two previous League matches. Arsenal had taken only 7 points from their previous six matches in the Premier League. Arsenal had a number of players returning from injury to strengthen their team while Tottenham were looking at a lengthening injury list to key players – Younes Kaboul, Mousa Dembele, Scott Parker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto while Steven Caulker joined it ahead of the match at the Emirates. Villas-Boas made two changes to his team with Hugo Lloris in goal and Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe starting together for the first time in the League.
- Totttenham had a two goal lead by the 37th minute with an early goal from Louis Saha and an Emmanuel Adebayor penalty.
- Spurs went ahead after 10 minutes through Adebayor with the Arsenal defence having difficulty coping with the pace and movement of the Spurs’ front men. Andre Villas-Boas’ initial strategy of playing two strikers was working well.
- 17 minutes: Adebayor was sent off and his dismissal changed the course and nature of the game, leaving Tottenham in a damage limitation situation for the next 73 minutes. It had the same effect on the match as Peter Crouch’s early sending off in Madrid in the Champions League Quarter-final tie in 2011.
- 24 minutes: Arsenal equalised with a header from a cross from the right.
Both matches swung on what happened in the minutes leading up to the interval.
- Spurs were looking to get to half-time with their two goal advantage but Arsenal came back with two goals in three minutes which lifted their morale and demoralised Tottenham from a seemingly impregnable position of strength.
- Spurs needed to hold on to the interval to regroup and re-think their plans for the second half as they had been struggling to cope with the Arsenal threat on the right. Arsenal, however, managed to score twice in the three minutes leading up to half-time, which sealed the match for them.
- Harry Redknapp made two substitutions replacing Nico Kranjcar and Saha with Sando and Rafael Van der Vaart.
- Villas-Boas also made two alterations to his team bringing on Michael Dawson and Clint Dempsey for the two full-backs, Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton.
- It was Arsenal who were in the ascendancy. They quickly got into their stride and Spurs simply didn’t respond with the two substitutions having no impact on the game. Spurs capitulated and conceded three goals with Arsenal’s desire for the result greater than Spurs. The changes made at half-time didn’t help the team as neither player got into the game and those around them seemed unsure of how they were to play. Through the second half, Redknapp and his staff sat motionless, seemingly unable to bring anything to the players that might bring a change to the course of events – content to accept the situation.
Villas-Boas’ half-time changes saw Spurs switch to three at the back with William Gallas, Dawson and Jan Vertonghen in a 3 – 5 – 1 formation and Dempsey getting forward to support Defoe. Spurs took the game to Arsenal and the change of tactics worked effectively as Bale and Lennon were a threat with their pace but when Spurs went forward they were always open to a counter-attack from Arsenal. Spurs conceded the fourth after an hour when a goal kick was flicked on leaving Spurs defence stretched. For a time after that, the defence was caught out but the players managed to gather themselves again and with ten minutes remaining Bale’s goal caused a few tremors of anxiety around the Emirates. When he broke for goal again a few minutes later, there was a collective holding of the breath among Arsenal fans until his cross shot went past the far post. Arsenal were content to retain possession through the final ten minutes with the fifth goal coming in added time. Through the second period Villas-Boas was constantly in his technical area urging the players on and encouraging them. At the final whistle, he took to the pitch to acknowledge the players’ effort and commitment.
Villas-Boas, looking to take positives from the defeat, gave his thoughts on the players’ efforts to the @SpursOfficial Twitter account:
The loss to Arsenal puts Villas-Boas under further pressure as Spurs are now 8th in the Premier League, following three successive defeats. The 5 – 2 margin of defeat at Arsenal is not unusual for Spurs at The Emirates – it’s a replica of last year but in recent season Spurs have lost also there by three goals in 2002, 2006 and 2009. It is disappointing that at a time when Spurs have been hoping to close the gap on their near neighbours that they have again succumbed to a heavy defeat but at least on this occasion the players showed some fight rather than the total capitulation of last season. The sending off, for which Adebayor has apologised, changed the game and meant that there was no opportunity to judge whether Villas-Boas’ positive strategy of two strikers would prove to be successful.
Arsenal continue to maintain that winning mentality which continues to be a missing ingredient with Spurs who, currently seem unable to close out a game for a win. In the coming weeks it will be crucial for Spurs to put together a run of results to renew their confidence and re-ignite their season. It won’t be easy with a Europa League trip to Rome to play Group J leaders, Lazio followed by three matches against teams who are around them in the League – West Ham United (7th), Fulham (9th) and improving Liverpool (11th). As Villas-Boas intimated in his post-match interviews, the League season is not decided by one game or one result so there is plenty for Spurs to play for in the coming weeks.