Arsenal looked to be on top for 35 minutes today, but the combination of a risky high line, poor defending, and lack of creativity in the final third proved the Gunners' undoing once again as they fell to rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
For the first half an hour or so, Arsenal were doing things well. Tottenham were looking for ways to spring the Arsenal high line, but the pressing by Arsenal's midfield was doing a good job of forcing Spurs into bad passes. Arsenal were combining well until the final third, when most of the final balls were simply lacking. Jack Wilshere sold a couple of through balls short and simple passes short, but he wasn't the only one. Olivier Giroud had a possible shot on ten minutes, but he was too slow to pull the trigger.
Spurs were content to sit back and try to soak up pressure, but they were not finding a way out, as Moussa Dembele and Scott Parker were being marked and pressed and harried at every opportunity. Similarly, Aaron Ramsey was doing an okay job of keeping tabs on Gareth Bale.
But one can't really do that forever; eventually the defenders would be called upon, and when they were, they failed. 35 minutes in, Arsenal's press was lacking, there was no closing down, and Gylfi Sigurdsson was left alone to thread a pass through to Bale. Nacho Monreal stopped tracking his run, Thomas Vermaelen was unaware, and Per Mertesacker played him onside. It was bad, bad, bad, and Bale clipped a neat finish over Wojciech Szczesny to make it 1-0.
Arsenal hardly had time to blame each other before their misery doubled in basically the same way two minutes later. Scott Parker was left alone to thread a pass through to an un-tracked, diagonally running Aaron Lennon, who clowned Arsenal's high line and rounded Szczesny. It was 2-0, and all of Arsenal's hard work was undone.
The second half brought no changes. Arsenal started out flat, but they won a free kick in the 51st minute, and there was hope.
Per Mertesacker rose unchallenged to glance a header towards goal; it hit Bale's head immediately and skipped past Hugo Lloris. 2-1, and Arsenal were back in it.
Unfortunately for them, the next 40 minutes didn't really bring much new. Arsene Wenger made a strangely ambitious sub on 60 minutes, bringing on Tomas Rosicky for Carl Jenkinson. Aaron Ramsey moved to right back. Spurs just waited and sprang counters against the high line, Sigurdsson nearly scoring on 70 minutes, Defoe on 71. Bale hit a shot straight at Szczesny from a corner.
Arsenal's best chance to level came after Lukas Podolski came on, as Ramsey was found streaking up the right on 80 minutes, but he screwed his shot wide of the far post; he could have perhaps done better. Theo Walcott screwed a free kick wide from a hopeful position, and Giroud shot from 20 when he really should have settled and looked for options.
Per Mertesacker moved up front., and despite all the creative midfielders on the field, Arsenal insisted on lumping it long, and they got what they deserved, which was nothing. Mark Clattenberg blew time on the derby, and Spurs moved seven points clear of their rivals. Arsenal now sit in 5th place by five points with ten games left to play; much needs to be done.
There are nine days until Bayern Munich.