There are days when even the most one-eyed of managers can legitimately claim that refereeing decisions have cost his side a game, but if that team perform as feebly in their biggest fixture of the season as Tottenham did yesterday, any sympathy tends to evaporate like so much hot air. Although Spurs lost the 152nd north London derby to two dubious penalties and a marginal offside verdict, their display was so wretched as to render any complaint irrelevant.
Martin Jol, to his great credit, did not attempt to hide behind excuses. "I want to focus on the performance," he said. "If we'd created four or five chances we could have said the decisions cost us. But it would have been a miracle if we'd got a result." Like so many teams this season, Tottenham are lamentable away from the cosiness of their own stadium, which tends to indicate a weakness of character. "We have to grow up and be stronger," Jol admitted. "All these talented players have to learn to play in the English League."
More fool the clubs for signing so many, it was tempting to reply. The counter-argument is that Arsenal, occasionally light-weight in the past and starting again without a single English player, displayed all the aggression their local rivals lacked. On this form, the Emirates will be as unhappy a hunting ground for Tottenham as Highbury, where they succeeded once in their final 21 visits - against a near-reserve team the week before the 1993 FA Cup final.
Spurs desperately needed to score first, which Steed Malbranque ought to have done with 10 minutes played. Four visiting teams who have done that at the Emirates have managed to hang on for a 1-1 draw; concede first, however, and the statistics say that Arsenal go on to romp home 3-0. Accused with some justification by their former manager George Graham of lacking leaders, Arsenal did at least have a captain in Gilberto Silva ready to step up to the plate - or the penalty spot - twice, after Emmanuel Adebayor had been given the benefit of the tightest of decisions by an assistant referee for the opening goal.
Adebayor, enjoying probably his best game for the club, was only playing because of Thierry Henry's neck injury. It was Henry he rushed over to embrace after being allowed to run on to Kolo Touré's through pass in the 20th minute for the first goal. Pascal Chimbonda had unwisely stepped up from right-back in an attempt to win the offside decision and on another day might well have got away with it. But this was never going to be Tottenham's day. "The turning points went for us," said Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger.
The first of them, as he said, was Malbranque's opportunity from inside the penalty area early on, skewed carelessly wide with the outside of his foot. The next one, just before the interval, was the penalty awarded by Graham Poll as Chimbonda nicked the ball away from Robin van Persie before the Dutchman went down. Gilberto expertly tucked the penalty away right in the bottom corner of the net.
Spurs had dropped Robbie Keane back almost into midfield but were so weak down their left flank, where Fredrik Ljungberg did as he liked, that the full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto and midfielder Malbranque both had to be replaced at the interval. Didier Zokora, casual in possession throughout, could just as easily have been sacrificed. What would they not have given for a more youthful Clive Allen, who contented himself with warming up the half-time substitutes, Jermaine Jenas and Lee Young-Pyo. Lee briefly offered some adventure down the left, whipping in one dangerous cross that Jens Lehmann spilled, and the goalkeeper then made his one save of the afternoon from Jenas's 25 yarder, but with the game becoming increasingly fractious, a second debatable penalty put matters beyond doubt.
Jenas held Van Persie back just outside the penalty area, causing the Arsenal man to handle before being tripped inside the area. Gilberto's second penalty went to the other side of a helpless Paul Robinson.
Jermain Defoe was given 10 minutes to achieve the impossible for Spurs and there might have been further humiliation with a red card for Jenas. The ecstatic home supporters, meanwhile, who had produced the best atmosphere yet at the new stadium, crowed like cockerels. "You might as well go home," they chanted at the visiting contingent, many of whom had taken the opportunity to do so before the final whistle. Having seen Tottenham score three goals in eight away games, they may not rush to the next one.Reuse content