Early Doors

Balance of power tips in Tottenham’s favour

Early Doors

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Few things have been as certain as Arsenal finishing above Tottenham in the league in the past 18 years. Death, taxes and the perennial troubles of Toadfish Rebecchi on Ramsay Street, perhaps, but not a lot else.

In fact, so entrenched has this tradition become, Arsenal fans have even coined a term for the day when it is no longer possible for Spurs to finish above them in the table. And St Totteringham's Day has been celebrated, without fail, every year stretching back all the way to 1994-95, a season when Arsenal were thrown into turmoil following the sacking of George Graham.

It has come early, it has come late, but it has always come, every bit as essential an event in the Arsenal fan's calendar as Easter, Mothers' Day and the publication of next season's fixtures.

In 2007-08 it came on March 9 - the earliest ever date - yet since Arsenal went the season unbeaten in 03-04 the overall trend has generally been towards a tenser scenario, correlating naturally with a dip in quality in the Arsenal ranks, and the number of bemusing press conferences given by Arsene Wenger.

Three times since the Invincibles, St Totteringham's has been in doubt going into the final day of the season - orders for sausage rolls and jelly put on hold. Even then, the stars have aligned against Spurs.

In 2010 Arsenal beat a weakened Fulham side preparing for the Europa League final, last season they only emerged victorious from a trip to West Brom thanks to a shocker from Marton Fulop and, of course, a dodgy lasagne was responsible for Arsenal claiming the final Champions League spot in 2006, years before the horsemeat scandal brought the popular Italian foodstuff back into the national spotlight.

Spurs, who famously let a 10-point lead slip last season, may yet contrive to find a way to finish below Arsenal once again - protecting their record of living in their opponents' shadows - but on the evidence of yesterday's North London derby, Early Doors rather suspects this year will finally be the year that Arsenal's St Totteringham's Day bunting stays packed away in the attic.

After Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon gave Spurs a 2-0 lead at the break, it looked as though they might be ready to break once again, that inferiority complex bubbling to the surface, when Per Mertesacker's header flicked off Bale and in. But, crucially, they did not.

There was no 5-2 win for Arsenal from 2-0 down as there was at this stage last season. Instead the abiding memory was an abject display of defending from the visitors at White Hart Lane.

Arsenal were once famed for their offside trap - that was something else you could always rely on. The intuitive, synchronised motion of Tony Adams and Steve Bould raising their arms to foil another attack was even immortalised on film in the Full Monty.

Now, with Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker as the key characters, a disaster movie would be a suitable fit. Final Destination maybe, where everything comes to a messy conclusion.

Arsenal's "Big F****** German" made a big, er, mistake when playing Bale on for the first goal, but the whole back four were horribly static, allowing vast swathes of green in behind them for Bale to run into. Incredibly, just two minutes later we had a sequel, Lennon darting past Nacho Monreal and Vermaelen to plunder a second. Wojciech Szczesny offered little resistance on either occasion.

Elementary mistakes committed twice in two minutes. History - if immediate - repeating; an inability to learn from past errors is a hallmark of the Arsenal defence. Even Arsene Wenger admitted he is possessed of a back four as watertight as a broken sieve.

On conceding twice in quick succession, he said: "It happened to us many times this season and only in big games. It's difficult to say why, there's no common thing, in all the games there is a different problem. But after you make it difficult for yourself."

This wasn't Arsenal's worst game of the season; for the first 30 minutes they were the better side. But after those two goals in two minutes, they created little of genuine note - Mertesacker's reply aside.

Meanwhile, Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen saw the game out imperiously for Spurs, and the evident gap in performance between the two defences was not the only difference.

Spurs are better drilled, better organised, better prepared. They are more robust, physically and mentally. They appear fresh under AVB where Arsenal under Wenger look stale. They have looked united in pursuit of a common goal, Arsenal look short of ideas.

ED isn't definitively calling this race for Tottenham - not when they have a much harder run-in - and Arsenal may yet rein in Chelsea, who are five points ahead of them to Tottenham's seven, to finish fourth in any case. But after 18 years of red supremacy, it looks as though Arsenal's annual parties could be coming to an end.

Villas-Boas put it succinctly enough: "We are on an upward spiral in terms of confidence and they are in a negative spiral in terms of results - and to be out of that negative spiral is extremely difficult."

Yesterday, Arsenal didn't show any signs of coming out of their prolonged slump, while Spurs soared ever higher, and possibly out of sight.

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COMING UP: With only 15 points to make up on leaders Manchester United, Manchester City visit Aston Villa in the Premier League tonight, with kick-off coming at 8pm. Prior to that, we have the first part of our exclusive two-part interview with Villa boss Paul Lambert. Jan Molby also files his latest blog and we publish our Premier League and European Teams of the Week.

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