Van Persie shatters Spurs
Arsenal forward Robin van Persie struck twice to earn his side bragging rights in north London and put a question mark over whether rivals Tottenham Hotspur can sustain a top-four challenge in the Barclays Premier League. Spurs have not won a league game against Arsenal since 1999, and they fell away after Van Persie opened the scoring at the Emirates Stadium and Cesc Fabregas added the second after winning possession straight from the kick-off.
Both sides went into the weekend level on points, albeit with Spurs playing a game extra, but talk of the gap between the clubs being closed was well and truly ended when Van Persie tapped in the third after the break.
"It's difficult to judge just how good this Tottenham team is, but they certainly have potential and they have a big, talented squad," wrote Gunners manager Arsene Wenger in his programme notes.
Unfortunately for Harry Redknapp, three of his attacking talents were unavailable, as Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon were injured and Jermain Defoe suspended, so the Spurs manager chose to match Arsenal's formation and play Peter Crouch up front on his own and Robbie Keane on the left. The plan worked well initially, with the home fans starting to get restless in frustration until the two goals in as many minutes just before the interval.
Spurs did not create much themselves, but limited their rivals to half-chances, aside from when Ledley King's tackle on Andrey Arshavin fell for Fabregas with most of the goal to aim for. Even then, Heurelho Gomes threw himself to his left to save the effort and grab the rebound from Nicklas Bendtner's toes. Keane's pre-match comments suggested Spurs' squad was as good as Arsenal's, although their gameplan relied on stifling Wenger's side through hard work and punting the ball forward to Crouch.
Former Arsenal winger David Bentley, predictably jeered throughout, typified the work ethic. He snapped at heels on the right flank and was fortunate not to receive a booking when he tripped Thomas Vermaelen, referee Mark Clattenburg happy to keep his cards in his pocket during a feisty opening. Clattenburg was referee during Arsenal's last defeat, seven weeks ago at Manchester City when Emmanuel Adebayor clashed with Van Persie. Despite dropping points since, Arsenal have shown massive improvement since that match and eventually they came good against Spurs.
The match totally turned just before the break, with Van Persie first giving Spurs a warning after Benoit Assou-Ekotto's error. The Cameroon full-back gifted possession to Fabregas on the edge of the area, with the Arsenal captain weighting a pass through to Van Persie, who had Gomes to beat, but scuffed his finish wide.
Arshavin then had an effort deflected over by Vedran Corluka after cutting in from the right, but the hosts were not made to wait long for the opener. Bacary Sagna's cross from the right was met by Van Persie and the ball crept in at Gomes' near post after the Dutchman got across King.
The second came 11 seconds after Spurs kicked off. Wilson Palacios tripped over himself and Fabregas took charge, bursting through challenges from the Honduras international and Tom Huddlestone. The Arsenal captain then skipped around King and planted his finish coolly past Gomes.Van Persie said Fabregas's strike had more to do with his ability than Spurs' defensive frailties.
"(It was) his brilliance," said Van Persie. "Straight from the kick-off (Wilson) Palacios lost the ball. (Fabregas) went past Palacios and through Ledley King. To do that you need a lot of technique."
It emerged during the interval that the Spurs bench complained to stewards about the behaviour of Arsenal fans near the dug-out. In the second half, Arsenal looked to extend their lead. Eduardo, a replacement after Nicklas Bendtner picked up an apparent groin injury, was sent through by Fabregas and Gomes stood up well to save.
Sebastien Bassong cleared off the line from Abou Diaby, then the third came after an intelligent advantage played by Clattenburg. Eduardo had collided with Assou-Ekotto, but Clattenburg allowed Sagna to continue. Sagna's cross went through the barrier formed by Gomes and King, with Van Persie tapping in.
All Spurs had to show for their efforts was a Bentley free-kick which was saved, while Crouch was booked for throwing the ball away in frustration. Eduardo should have added another when he broke the offside trap, but his finish went just wide. Bassong picked up a hamstring injury in stoppage-time as Arsenal counter-attacked.
"It was a tight, tough first half hour, but from the moment we scored the first goal, they died basically," said Van Persie.