Spurs present Arsenal with derby victory
Tottenham's enduring ability to shoot themselves in the foot came back to haunt them as their wait for a victory at the home of their deadliest rivals is set to move painfully into its 17th year.
Genuine Premier League top four contenders need to display the mental fortitude to back up their talents and, not for the first time, Tottenham were exposed as a team of pretenders rather than contenders as they contributed horribly to their own downfall.
Spurs skipper Robbie Keane had fanned the flames ahead this game by claiming the long-standing chasm between Arsenal and Spurs had now been closed and yet such bullish words have been presented time and again down the years by representatives of a club seemingly determined to remain as the second biggest club in North London.
On the face of it, Keane's words came with plenty of credibility this time as Spurs started this game level on points with Arsene Wenger's men and also appeared to have a squad ready to compete at the top end of the Premier League and yet these are the games when such lavish boasts need to be justified.
The final margin of victory looks comfortable on paper for the Gunners, but the chief gripe for Spurs boss Harry Redknapp was the way his team blew a glorious chance to make their statement of intent for the season ahead after laying the sort of solid foundations in the first 40 minutes at the Emirates Stadium.
Hard-working graft is not a quality Tottenham have been associated with too often down the years, but Redknapp has instilled that much-needed ingredient into a talented squad over the 12 months and their feisty enthusiasm threatened to stunt Arsenal's progress at first.
While Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes was called upon to make a fine save to deny Cesc Fabregas after 20 minutes, this didn't have the feel of the North London derby mismatches we have been used to in the last decade to start with and you could sense the Arsenal fans around us in the Emirates Stadium growing frustrated as the half-time beckoned.
However, the top teams find solutions to problems that are thrown before them and a solitary minute of what Redknapp later described as 'scandalous' Tottenham incompetence shattered their game plan.
You simply could not seen an Arsenal goal coming until some slack defending allowed a cross to fizz into the Spurs box and Robin van Persie's low shot got the better of keeper Gomes. As if that wasn't bad enough, the pivotal moment of this game was a matter of seconds away.
Looking like a boxer who had hauled himself off the canvas with great reluctance after a stunning right hook, Tottenham re-started the game with scrambled minds and after Palacios handed the ball to an eager Fabregas in the centre-circle, the Arsenal skipper raced through on goal to fire the decisive second goal. Ledley King made life too easy for him as Spurs hit the self-destruct button in alarming fashion.
Redknapp had doubtless been dreaming up a half-time briefing laced with platitudes, but you merely needed to look at his dishevelled troops as they walked off at the break to realise their 49 seconds of madness - as that is how long it took for Arsenal to score twice - had left them in a state of shock.
There was some hope for the visitors. Arsenal's tendency to toss away leads as their nerves fray late in games stems, in part, from Tottenham's remarkable comeback in last season's 4-4 draw here and there were some signs that Wenger's side were fraying around the edged as they were put under pressure at the start of the second half.
Yet defensive disasters were always just around the corner for Redknapp's men on this of all days and so it proved as the vital third goal pierced their net shortly after the hour mark. Amateur defending allowed Van Persie to prod home his second and Redknapp didn't try to defend his team's failings as his words echoed around the vast press briefing room at the Emirates Stadium.
"I felt the crowd were getting onto them as we got towards the end of the first half, but Sunday morning football defending cost us," said the always honest Spurs boss. "You cannot afford to defend as we did as a top side like Arsenal will punish you.
"I have never felt more comfortable at this stadium as I did looking to go in at 0-0 and just when you think you have done your job, the game is turned upside down. We switched off at the back and they punished us. All three goals were scandalous, there wasn't a good goal amongst them. What can you do."
So what of Arsenal? It would be a mistake to allow the comprehensive nature of this win to disguise the fact that they were handed the derby day bragging rights on a plate by their generous neighbours and their long-standing defensive uncertainties and nervousness still seeped through at times.
William Gallas among those who looked shaky at the start of the second half, with Wenger's second half animation on the touchline confirming he was not entirely satisfied with the efforts of his team.
Their in-built determination to break forward and attack en-mass even when a game is won. Such ambition has cost them so many times in the last year or so and the Arsenal manager admits his team are still a work in progress.
"We deserve credit for this performance because winning a derby game is never easy," said Wenger. "We took advantage of the chances that came our way just before half time and that changed the game. There are still a lot of improvements we can make, but we are in a strong positions in all the competition now and that is a better start than last season."
Progress has certainly been made during Harry Redknapp's first year in charge, but shifting the balance of North London power up the Seven Sisters road is clearly going to be a lengthy process.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Robin van Persie
The Dutchman claims he need to take more of the chances that come his way and he did well to snap up two in this game. His second owed plenty to luck, but the Arsenal No.11 is finally looking like the complete striker.
WHO'S BETTER NOW ROBBIE: Spurs skipper Keane claimed the squad assembled by his boss Redknapp squad is stronger than Arsenal's and yet in the absence of Jermain Defoe, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon, the back-up stars failed to deliver. David Bentley, in particular, was especially disappointing after he has waited so long for a first team chance.
ARSENAL VERDICT: It's hard to offer a conclusive verdict on the Gunners after a game that was presented to them by generous rivals. Prior to their first goal, Wenger's side appeared to be running out of ideas and they will face bigger tests than this in the months ahead.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Basic defensive errors just will not do if Tottenham are to emerge as anything more than a top eight side in the Premier League this season. There are still huge doubts over their self belief to win games of this magnitude.