Victory In North London Derby

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Arsenal continued its league dominance over neighboring rivals Tottenham with a 3-0 win on Saturday at Emirates Stadium, extending to 16 years the period since Spurs last triumphed on the Gunners’ home ground.

Tottenham haven’t beaten Arsenal in a Premiership match for a decade, yet pre-game banter from Spurs manager Harry Redknapp and forward Robbie Keane indicated the visitors were confident in claiming victory in this edition of the North London derby due to a solid start to the 2009-10 season that had positioned them fourth in the league table.

But two Arsenal goals just before halftime silenced Spurs’ spirit and belief, turning a tight match in the Gunners’ favor and allowing the home side and its supporters another instance to claim bragging rights over bitter rivals.

After missing a chance from a tight angle earlier in the half, Robin van Persie was able to direct a fizzing cross from Bacary Sagna into Heurelho Gomes’ net in minute 42. The goal came as welcome relief for Arsenal, who did have the better opportunities on goal in the period but couldn’t separate themselves from Tottenham until that point.

The resulting applause from home supporters exploded into a frenzy just seconds later, when Cesc Fabregas intercepted a Spurs ball off the re-start and weaved his way through three defenders before blasting a strike into the corner of the net for Arsenal’s second goal in less than a minute.

This writer was only able to view the opening 45 minutes (before leaving for work), so the pair of goals just before the break changed what would have been some tense moments for me away from any TV coverage of the match, into a sense of comfort figuring that the Gunners would come away with another victory.

Although Spurs had a couple efforts on Manuel Almunia’s goal in the second half, the result was assured for Arsenal when van Persie was on the receiving end of another Sagna cross at the hour mark, poking the ball home after Gomes couldn’t deal with the centering pass.

And the 3-0 lead could have easily grown to more if Abou Diaby and Eduardo da Silva — who came on for an injured Nicklas Bendtner — converted on clear chances later in the match. Still, the three goals — and the three points gained from the win — were enough to confirm the fact that there still is a gulf in class between Arsenal and Spurs, despite what some players and pundits may have stated in this season’s early days.

“I said in the press conference (on Friday) that football is not about opinion, it is about performance and what is happening on the pitch,” said manager Arsene Wenger in his post-match comments to reporters. “You have to accept that everybody can have an opinion but what is important is what is happening on the pitch. You can understand that Robbie Keane cannot say Spurs are worse than us because it’s part of the preparation of the team.”

Wenger was pleased to see his side overcome a slow start to emerge victorious in the North London derby. “I believe the fluency lacked a little bit in the first half-hour. We played a little bit with the handbrake and couldn’t find our usual fluency,” added the manager. “But during that period we were serious, and overall, despite the fact we won 3-0 we had a good defensive performance and our back five was very efficient. We dealt well with their offensive problems.”

The win ended a successful seven days for the Gunners after the somewhat disappointing draw at West Ham the previous weekend. “I think it has been a fantastic week for the club because we beat Liverpool (in the Carling Cup), we beat Tottenham, both times with convincing performances and with a style of play which is now within our club. I am very proud of that,” said Wenger, in the post-match interview that can be viewed at http://www.arsenal.com.

Asked in that interview if his team can win the Premiership title, the manager responded: “I think so. Yes, I have said that since the first day of the season and I will not change my mind today. That’s what we want to show, I believe we can.

“We want to show consistency, intelligence and that is not easy. We have other competitors but why should we not challenge?” continued Wenger. “We have the opportunity and the quality and it will be down to our attitude. We need to be preserved a little bit from injuries but I am convinced we have the quality, attitude and spirit in the squad.”

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