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Dec 2, 2006

Crisis? What crisis?

Arsenal 3-0 Tottenham Hotspur

It has been a ten years crisis in the making, yet the media were sensing some Gallic blood as they schemed behind Arsene Wenger's back ahead of this North London derby.

After a decade of hailing the Arsenal manager as some kind of magical messiah, the London media pack have focused the sharp edge of their fangs in Wenger's direction after back-to-back Premiership defeats against Bolton Wanderers and Fulham ended the Gunners title challenge before it ever really began.

• Wenger puts Henry in his place

This correspondent can confirm that the Arsenal boss was more prickly and confrontational than normal at his Friday lunchtime press briefing, while reports in the Saturday morning newspapers of a bust-up between Wenger and his inspirational skipper, Thierry Henry, further stirred their already rocking boat.

The euphoria of last season's run to the Champions League Final back in May seemed like a distant glory amid the troubled start to this season so the sight of Tottenham, of all teams, wandering into the Emirates Stadium was hardly welcome.

Defeat against Spurs would have transformed Arsenal's dip into a fully blown crisis ahead of Wednesday's Champions League decider against FC Porto, with the sight of Henry dressed in black on the touchline, missing this game after Wenger decided he needed a rest, boosting Tottenham's hopes further.

Henry's appearance on TV brought the press room to a silent stand-still around half and hour before kick-off and while his resolute rebuff of the 'bust-up' story made compelling viewing, you got the feeling that Arsenal may have been there for the taking on a day when the tide appeared to be flowing against them.

In a new stadium that has contributed to their decline in the first few months of this season, the Tottenham supporters filling the far corner to the right of the press box were making the bulk of the noise prior to kick off, clearly anticipating that their 13-year wait for an away day victory against their fiercest rivals was imminent. An early chance in the box for Tottenham's Steed Malbranque suggested their hopes were justified.

Yet it soon became apparent that even without the brilliant Henry, Arsenal had too much all-round class for their local rivals. Gaining almost total control of the game from the first whistle, Tottenham's lack of cohesion and invention made life all too easy for Arsenal and as Emmanuel Adebayor beat the off-side trap to open the scoring after 19 minutes, it gave the home side a deserved lead. He raced to celebrate with the watching Henry on the sidelines.

The response from Spurs was not what coach Martin Jol would have wanted. Unable to get winger Aaron Lennon onto the ball, it gave Arsenal the chance to run the show and even though they didn't create too many clear cut chances, this was a game played in the Wenger way.

After losing out against a side intent on beating them by winning corners and throw-ins at every opportunity last Saturday, Wenger knows his side will beat most opponents who try to take them on in a more conventional fashion and it was their passing that paved the way for the crucial second goal four minutes before the break.

Tottenham's Pascal Chimbonda won the ball as he challenged Tomas Rosicky in the box, but referee Graham Poll felt a foul was committed and Gilberto converted the spot kick to further compound Tottenham's misery.

With full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto looking out of his depth at Premiership level and Arsenal exploiting his frailties at every opportunity, it was no surprise to see Martin Jol putting the Frenchman out of his misery by replacing him at half-time and his briefing to his players should have been of the x-rated variety.

In the eyes of their supporters, this fixtures is one of the two most significant they will play this season, so turning in the sort of gutless display produced by those in white shirts over the first 45 minutes was a surprise. In a game they arguably went into as joint favourites, Tottenham's performance was inept.

Jol's words of inspiration produced a marginally better display from his players in the second half, but the battle was already lost and the long ball football they resorted to was never going to provide a route back from the inevitable defeat they faced.

'It would have taken a miracle for us to get a result after a performance like that,' stated an honest Jol, as his side continued their alarming record of failing to score from open play away from home in the Premiership this season. 'With that in mind, I would be silly to sit here and blame the referee for our defeat.

'With Henry not playing, I felt we had a real chance in this game, but we let them have far too much of the ball and didn't create enough chances of our own. It was a poor performance.'

As the chants of support for Wenger echoed around this normally silent stadium 20 minutes from time, the much-publicised crisis was over and as Gilberto slide home a second penalty moments later, after Robin van Persie was tripped in the box by Jermaine Jenas, the result was confirmed.

  • Wenger puts Henry in his place

    Yet rather than basking in his side's triumph, Wenger used his press conference to reveal his 'bust-up' with Henry may not have been blown out of proportion. 'I need to sit down with Thierry and let him know what we expect from him,' stated the Arsenal boss, clearly hinting that his captain is in danger of believing he is bigger than the club.

    'If you are not fit to play in a game, then you have to prepare for that and this team is not just about one man. I have 20 good players here. We show spirit, character and determination against a good Tottenham team as we were under a lot of mental pressure going into this game. Scoring first was the key.

    'It was Thierry's decision to stand on the touchline today and maybe it is too easy for the media to get comments from him at times. I am not happy or unhappy about his situation, but we need to have a meeting to resolve everything.'

    The injection of confidence they will gain from this emphatic victory may just spark Arsenal into life and those looking to unsettle Wenger's harmony with lurid back-page headlines will have to keep their ink dry for a while yet.

    Yet Wenger's apparent confession that Henry's antics of the last 24 hours have upset his normally placid demeanour will create plenty of headlines.

    MAN OF THE MACH: Emmanuel Adebayor

    He has been the victim of the Arsenal boo-boys from time to time, yet this was the day when Adebayor stepped out of the shadows and proved his worth. He led the line magnificently throughout. He deserved his standing ovation as he was taken off three minutes from time.

    FOOD WATCH: The early morning start meant pre-match food was not required on this occasion, but the half-time pie went down well. Also, Soccernet's Insider indulged himself with a couple of helpings of ice cream from the press room freezer.

    FACE IN THE CROWD: Former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson was spotted amid the plethora of corporate guests at the Emirates Stadium.

    ARSENAL VERDICT: Against sides unwilling to ruffle their well preened feathers, Wenger's methods are hugely successful and Tottenham were a willing punch bag for them to paw at. Judgement on their prospects should be reserved until Wednesday's crucial Champions League tie in Portugal.

    TOTTENHAM VERDICT: For a side with designs on qualification for the Champions League, Martin Jol's side were a pathetic mess. Lacking the heart for the fight and looking disorganised throughout, it may be that the media inspired crisis will soon be engulfing the other club in North London football.

  • Email newsdesk@soccernet.com with your thoughts.