Tottenham Hotspur’s hopes of gatecrashing the English Premier League’s established elite were put back into perspective on Saturday as they slumped to a chastening 3-0 defeat at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger’s side maintained their vice-like grip on north London supremacy thanks to two goals in the space of 60 frantic seconds in the first-half from Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas as Spurs missed the chance to leapfrog Arsenal, who started the weekend third in the table.
Van Persie then completed his double in the second period at the Emirates Stadium to ensure Arsenal’s unbeaten
run against their near neighbours now stands at 20 league games.
It was a horrible afternoon for Spurs, not least because Arsenal never even approached their best form. The bald truth is that they did not have to, with all three goals stemming from the kind of atrocious defending which used to be Tottenham’s hallmark.
The visitors might now rue their bold words in the build-up to this tussle, which had seen Robbie Keane claim that Spurs boasted the stronger squad and Harry Redknapp suggesting Arsenal lacked the nous to win the title.
Still, at least Tottenham can console themselves in the knowledge that they were not undone by an inferiority complex. Deprived of three of his star forwards — Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Luka Modric — through injury and suspension, Redknapp decided to place his side in cautious, rather than cavalier, mode, deploying Jermaine Jenas in a five-man midfield.
The net effect was to slash space to a premium, disrupting the spectacle but allowing Spurs to cut Arsenal’s incisive attacking thrusts off at source.
What few chances there were came from mistakes or plain bad luck, as in the 21st minute when Andrey Arshavin’s shot deflected to Fabregas and the Spaniard’s low drive was well saved by Gomes.
That, however, was a rare moment of drama and the half appeared to be dwindling to its inevitable goalless conclusion when, with two minutes remaining, Spurs inexplicably imploded.
A routine cross from Bacary Sagna was allowed to worm into the area and van Persie, having muscled in front of Ledley King, poked into the bottom corner.
Arsenal’s players duly wheeled away, in shock as much anything else, but the drama was not over yet.
After a befuddled Wilson Palacios allowed the ball to squirm away from him from the re-start, Fabregas scooped up possession, waltzed between Palacios and Tom Huddlestone, skipped past King and swept regally past a bewildered Gomes.