LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Scott Parker of Tottenham Hotspur and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on October 2, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Arsenal lost today's North London Derby 2-1 today with a largely sloppy and dull performance. An early 2nd half strike from Aaron Ramsey momentarily leveled the score, but a long-range strike from Kyle Walker than Wojciech Szczesny whiffed on put Spurs back again, and they were able to see out the match rather simply after that.
Arsenal were forced to play a makeshift back five again, with Alex Song alongside Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin in front of them. The latter ended up being one of Arsenal's better performers on the day, while his midfield partners Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey were ineffective and wildly bipolar, respectively.
For long stretches of the first half, the play was fairly even, and although he completed 83% of his 70 passes on the day, Ramsey was having trouble linking with Robin van Persie and his other forwards. Indeed, many of his passes were so astray that they actually launched attacks for Spurs. However, it would be harsh to single out Ramsey for blame; Arsenal as a whole were not pressing well or at all, Theo Walcott couldn't find his way past Benoit Assou-Ekotto at all, and Gervinho missed a peach of a chance in the 29th minute.
At the other end, Spurs were looking dangerous at times through Luka Modric and van der Vaart. They finally made it count in the 41st minute, Jermain Defoe passing to Emmanuel Adebayor, who floated a pass over the top to the unmarked van der Vaart, who finished at the far post with relative ease. Bacary Sagna was nowhere near his defense, and Mertesacker couldn't recover in time to get a block in. It was more routine back four play that Arsenal have slopped up this year, and it's a worrying trend. Still, we have started eight different back fours (maybe nine, now?) so far this year, so inconsistency shouldn't be surprising.
Halftime came and went without changes for either side, and immediately Arsenal looked better. They were pressing. This was key, as they started to overrun Spurs' midfield. Tottenham couldn't pass their way out of trouble, and Arsenal put constant pressure on, and when Alex Song found himself on the left after a corner, he rifled in a low cross that Ramsey slammed into the roof of the net. 1-1, and very much game on.
Arsenal continued to press, and what a difference it made. Spurs tried to escape through balls over the top, but Arsenal managed to play the offside trap well (funny how much easier it is when the space is compressed between the lines). Adebayor did make his way in on goal alone, eventually, though, following a lapse from Arsenal, but Szczesny was up to the task.
Harry Redknapp made his first change at this point, bringing on Sandro for the tiring van der Vaart, and it made a huge difference. Spurs regained control of the midfield, Arsenal stopped pressing, and from then on, it was mostly their game again. Bacary Sagna picked up what could be a horrible injury in a sideline collision with Assou-Ekotto. Although Song was containing Adebayor well, Arsenal had stopped closing down at all and were letting balls bounce in their defense for Bale to run onto. 73 minutes in, Spurs made them pay for lax defending, as Kyle Walker picked up a clearance, took two touches without anyone near him, and let fly from 25 yards with a wicked daisy-cutter. Szczesny got a finger to it and should've done much better, but it was 2-1. The lack of closing down and a weird error from the Pole merely capped increasingly weak play from Arsenal.
The Gunners brought on Yossi Benayoun and Andrei Arshavin, but Scott Parker was breaking up every attack now, and Spurs sat back and looked to counter, which against Arsenal's current defense is not at all a bad idea. Ramsey continued to misplace passes at key moments, there was little to no service to the Arsenal forwards, Bale and Parker ran Carl Jenkinson ragged, and despite a late corner chance, it was all over. A wildly uneven contest ended with Spurs on top, deservedly, as they were at odds far less often than were Arsenal in the match. It is still early in the season, and injuries to key Arsenal players have not helped, but things must get better soon, as Arsenal are still swamped in the bottom half of the table.