Gunners press self-destruct
Defensive errors condemn Wenger's men in engrossing derby
By Peter Fraser - Follow me on twitter @SkySportsPeteF. Last Updated: October 2, 2011 10:10pm
Adebayor: Former Arsenal man was denied a goal against his old club
All eyes were on Emmanuel Adebayor at White Hart Lane, but it was another old problem which tormented Arsenal in a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham.
Arsene Wenger, who has marked his 15th anniversary as manager, has endured a nightmare five months and for the first time in his illustrious career in England has seen his position called into question amid accusations his team lack experience, organisation and direction.
And he will again be forced to endure difficult analysis and suggestions of his team pressing the self-destruct button following defeat in an engrossing North London derby.
Rafael van der Vaart's 40th minute goal, debatably assisted by the former Real Madrid player's arm and involving a celebratory run into the Tottenham fans which could have earned a second booking, put Harry Redknapp's team ahead.
But Arsenal had enjoyed the larger chunks of the first half and responded almost immediately after the interval through Aaron Ramsey in what could have been viewed as a direct indication of the mental strength Wenger's team have been said to lack having already lost three Premier League matches before kick-off.
Adebayor, sold by Wenger to Manchester City in 2009 and now on loan at Tottenham, was the subject of long and unpleasant chants from Arsenal fans, who held strong memories of his infamous celebration for City in 2009/10.
The combustible Togolese set up Van der Vaart's opener, but was otherwise denied a goal of his own by a superb stop from Wojciech Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper who earlier in the week had alluded to a secret plan to keep the striker quiet.
However, Szczesny, and some woefully adrift defending, was to go from hero to zero when he allowed Kyle Walker's speculative long-ranger shot through his hands to leave Arsenal in 15th position.
Adebayor had arrived fashionably late, strolling from the tunnel 15 yards behind his team-mates in what was a grand entrance perhaps planned to milk the occasion, but he wasted little time in coming to life from kick-off.
Alex Song first used his fellow African for a piggy-back in an aerial challenge and, five minutes later, Arsenal's make-shift centre-back, who was reprising the role he played against Olympiakos amid an injury crisis, was beaten for pace and missed a sliding tackle.
Tottenham's No.10, Adebayor, who scored eight goals in nine games against Spurs during his three-and-a-half-year Arsenal career, seemed to sense a goal, especially against a defence which was gambling with a high line.
Van der Vaart, Scott Parker, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were enjoying themselves against an opposition midfield which surprisingly included Francis Coquelin, the 20-year-old overawed in the 8-2 humiliation at Manchester United in late August.
Arsenal, though, found their feet on the quarter-hour mark, when a Bacary Sagna shot deflected off Benoit Assou-Ekotto and had Brad Friedel scrambling, while Ramsey's flicked header from the resulting corner brought a sharp intake of breath from a vociferous White Hart Lane.
Tottenham seemed to be shaken by the set-piece and Redknapp's men became scrappy, with their visitors containing the source of attacks to Adebayor and the passenger strike-partner Jermain Defoe.
Van der Vaart went in Mike Dean's book in the 27th minute, as a late challenge on Kieran Gibbs demonstrated Tottenham's frustration, but seconds later the Dutchman should have opened the scoring when unmarked at the near post only to hit straight at Szczesny.
Arsenal responded with their own attack, but Wenger was left shaking his fists in annoyance in his technical area when Gervinho's attempt at placement from eight yards was dragged horribly wide.
It was an important moment, a huge miss in a match of such scale, and an example of why the end product of Gervinho, a £10.5million summer signing from Lille, has come in for some criticism.
But Arsenal, despite seeing Per Mertesacker booked for bringing down a rare Defoe run, were enjoying the better share of possession and the extra player in a three-man central midfield featuring Coquelin, Ramsey and Mikel Arteta was comfortable.
With five minutes of the first half remaining, Van der Vaart had other ideas. Arsenal were adamant the Spurs playmaker used his left arm to control Adebayor's venomous cross, and replays suggested the visitors had a case.
But referee Dean was not interested, Mertesacker could not recover, Sagna was far too wide and Van der Vaart had the control to hit a half-volley for his fourth goal in a Tottenham shirt against the Gunners.
There could also have been claims Van der Vaart should have been shown a second booking for a celebration in which he charged into the Tottenham supporters behind the goal, but Wenger's greatest gripe would have been conceding the goal.
Tottenham began the second half in a front-foot manner similar to the first, as Modric fluffed his shot when inside the penalty area and Bale sent a 25-yard effort rocketing narrowly over Szczesny's crossbar.
However, Arsenal were level in the 51st minute, when some abysmal defending from Tottenham was punished, with centre-back Song allowed the freedom of White Hart Lane to cross from the left and Ramsey was left unmarked to beat team-mate Robin van Persie to the simple task of the tap-in.
Spurs were worried and rightfully so. Arsenal were spraying the ball around with the swagger of seasons gone, but, much to the relief of the away fans, Adebayor was brilliantly prevented from restoring his team's lead when one-on-one with Szczesny in the 57th minute.
Seven minutes later, Redknapp decided to replace Van der Vaart with Sandro. It was an important change and wrestled back control of the midfield. Soon after, Arsenal were forced into a replacing the injured Sagna with Carl Jenkinson.
The loss of Sagna proved costly. Old problems remained for Arsenal in the 73rd minute. Assou-Ekotto was allowed to run off the back of Ramsey and Jenkinson at a throw-in before crossing.
After making a mess of his first touch, Modric fed the ball to Walker and the full-back's 30-yard effort ruined what had previously been an excellent afternoon for Szczesny.Arsenal's goalkeeper flapped at the ball to leave White Hart Lane delirious and Wenger, who clashed with Spurs coach Clive Allen after the final whistle, well aware that there is still a lot of hard work to be done.
|Tottenham Hotspur||Team Statistics||Arsenal|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|6||Shots on Target||5|
|8||Shots off Target||5|
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Barclays Premier League
|19||West Bromwich Albion||0||0|
|20||West Ham United||0||0|