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The Premier League sack race

Manager Watch less than a minute ago
Read
Nov 17, 2012

A derby of chaos and crisis

These days, chaos almost always reigns in a North London derby. In this season's Premier League, where defending is almost a forgotten art, the latest renewal was never likely to be any exception.

The cheers were with Arsenal, the doubts now lie with Andre Villas-Boas' regime at Tottenham. The pressure may not be as heightened as it was at Chelsea, but the questions raised about him are familiar. In turn, he hardly makes it easy for himself.

Villas-Boas' view of the game was troubling. "The feeling that we have in the dressing room is pride for each other," he said. "I think we were in control from the first minute to the last minute.

"When you play like this you cannot feel damage," he continued. Spurs fans would be entitled to ask why conceding five goals after an outbreak of poor discipline is not damaging.

Arsene Wenger was also confused by Villas-Boas' pronouncements. "If our opponents are in control from the first minute to the last and we win 5-2 then I am happy with that," he eventually offered, allowing himself a visible smirk.

Even though his coach refused to blame him, Emmanuel Adebayor was the obvious culprit, but Tottenham's collapse after his sending-off was still unforgivable. They never allowed themselves the chance to dig in. Arsenal's one-man advantage was far too swiftly converted into a 3-1 deficit for the visitors. Thereafter, Villas-Boas' talk of it being a close game was never borne out by either the scoreline or the amount of chances created.

From the moment - straight from the kick-off - that Jack Wilshere tore into Adebayor, it was clear this would be no game of nicety. There would be no feeling each other out, no cautious prodding and poking, just blood and thunder from the start. Two cogent managers' words of calm went unheard by players who set off like a pack of wolves. The fact that neither is capable of playing measured or tactical football cast the die yet deeper.

Such is both teams' current vulnerability that either could have fallen apart. This time it was Tottenham. A season-long habit of conceding winning positions reached a nadir when Adebayor converted himself from scoring hero to disgraced zero and his team followed suit.

"It's not always easy when you play against teams with ten men," said Wenger. "We've won matches with teams of ten men, and I thought it would become more difficult for us."

Arsenal did not mount an attack of note in the first fifteen minutes. By then, they were already a goal behind. Spurs' opener came via the type of defending Arsenal have patented in recent weeks. Per Mertesacker was statuesque from a long Jan Verthongen punt, Jermain Defoe's shot was only parried by Wojciech Szczesny and Adebayor scored. The sense of exasperation that is now so common at the Emirates had descended already. Arsenal were here for the taking.

But Spurs' Togolese self-destruct button was swiftly pushed. He made a thoughtless lunge on Santi Cazorla. It was the type that commentators used to call a 'forward's tackle' in days gone by. These days, it is known as a stupid and reckless tackle. It had the effect of boiling over simmering tension. Two youthful pearls of British football in Wilshere and Gareth Bale were to be found in a shoving match as referee Howard Webb gathered his thoughts before brandishing his red card.

Unlike Webb, Spurs gave themselves no time to regroup. Six minutes after the flashpoint, Mertesacker made up for his earlier error when Theo Walcott's cross found him strolling into a Spurs area from which his height could do the rest. Hugo Lloris' dive was acrobatic but he could not prevent the German equalising. "Adebayor, what's the score?" asked the Arsenal fans. Same as last year was the eventual answer.

The wisdom of selecting Lloris when Brad Friedel had played so well at Manchester City and the Frenchman had made an error against Maribor opened up Andre Villas-Boas to pre-match accusations. Now he has exposed an expensive asset to a punishing afternoon. Lloris made one wonderful save from a Giroud header but was playing behind a defence weakened by injury and Villas-Boas' control freakery.

Lloris had been unlucky when Podolski's goal squirted past him off the heel of William Gallas but he might have done better when Olivier Giroud scored Arsenal's third from a seating position.

Kyles Walker and Naughton were subbed at half-time after crosses had been allowed to rain down from Arsenal's flanks. Of the Sheffield United graduates, Walker has had a poor season, while Naughton has not played enough first-team football for his parent club. They departed together as Michael Dawson and Clint Dempsey came on, and the former became central to a three-man defence, in front of which Sandro and Tom Huddlestone sat as 1950s-style wing halves. The latest Villas-Boas experiment failed when a ball from Podolski bisected his defensive trio and Santi Cazorla scored at the back post.

It would be a celebration day for Arsenal, though a refresher in their own vulnerability was served by a Gareth Bale waltz across their defence and finish with his right foot to make it 4-2. Such are the nerves that wrack Gunners fans that there was audible panic in the stands. However, Spurs' problems are yet deeper.

Theo Walcott laid further evidence against his ambitions of being a striker when completing the scoreline. He had previously been guilty of dithering when placed through on goal but playing through the middle as he likes it, he converted an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pass past Lloris.

Last season's twin 5-2 win in this fixture was a foundation for Arsenal recovery and their claiming of third place. This season, at an earlier juncture, it will not be enough. Manchester's giants and Chelsea are far superior but a win here and against Montpellier in midweek and Wenger will have arrested his latest crisis.

This time, the chaos and crisis are Tottenham's. Andre Villas-Boas may take some convincing of that.

• Follow John Brewin on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN

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