Connect in the back of the net

It has long been known that under Mauricio Pochettino’s stewardship, Tottenham Hotspur have moved above Arsenal in terms of quality.

This was illustrated perfectly in Sunday’s North London derby as the hosts cruised to a 2-0 victory which mathematically secured a finish above the Gunners for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s tenure.

 

The real star

Whilst the goals came from Dele Alli and Harry Kane, the real star of the show was Victor Wanyama as the Kenyan midfielder dominated the match and bullied those around him in the red and white of Arsenal.

Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka aren’t the most physically domineering midfield pairing yet the way in which the two were crowded out of the contest by one man was a damning indictment of the gulf in not only quality between the two teams but also determination.

The former Celtic midfielder was powerful in possession as he shrugged off challenges and rather surprisingly he was efficient in moving the ball into attacking areas, something which few have seen him do with any great regularity since his arrival in the Premier League.

In Mousa Dembele’s absence, there was a concern that Pochettino’s side wouldn’t be able to push forward from midfield and the game would actually fall into Arsenal’s favour with the lack of physical drive in the host’s team starting line-up.

Arsene Wenger’s charges are not known for dealing with a team driving forward particularly well and without the Belgian in the side it was thought that Ramsey and Mesut Ozil would be able to pull the strings.

 

Composed

This was not the case quite simply because of the performance of Wanyama.

There wasn’t a dip in quality in the final third as the 25-year-old showed just as much composure as Dembele albeit with a little less finesse.

The Gunners simply couldn’t stand up to him as he dictated play and allowed Alli and Eriksen to drift into pockets of space without the fear of Arsenal counter-attacking.

Within the microcosm of the midfield battle it was again pointed out, much to the chagrin of Arsenal fans, the comparison in transfer strategies between the two clubs.

In the summer, both teams were looking for a dominant midfielder who could be adept in the defensive phase of the game. Wenger signed Xhaka and Pochettino/Levy brought in Wanyama.

 

Bargain signing

The Swiss international cost a reported £35 million whilst Southampton’s midfielder was signed in a cut-price £11 million deal.

Of course the former Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder has talent, you can’t argue against that, and Wanyama was in the last year of his contract at St.Mary’s so his fee was always going to be beneath his market value.

However the fact that Spurs identified a cost-effective player who was available under positive circumstances and was already known by the coach was a stroke of genius from those in charge.

One of the rather more well rehearsed lines of derision towards their fierce rivals from the Arsenal faithful in recent years was how constant Champions League qualification allowed them to shop at the very highest level in the transfer market, a level Spurs simply could not.

 

Levels above

Yet Sunday’s match proved that this season Wanyama is numerous levels above any of Arsenal’s midfield recruits.

It was the kind of display which makes teams sit up and take notice and this is a trend that had been present throughout the Kenyan’s career.

His goalscoring display in Celtic’s memorable 2-1 victory against Barcelona in the Champions League back in 2012 put him on the map with both Arsenal and Manchester United subsequently linked to him.

For whatever reason neither club made the move and it was Les Reed who pushed for his signature at Southampton.

He settled in England’s top flight quickly and gave three years of good service before his well deserved move to a Champions League club.

Wanyama’s display on Sunday was so effortlessly perfect that he really did look like the player Manchester United hoped they were getting in Marouane Fellaini.

 

Well-positioned

Tottenham are well-positioned now with a settled Head Coach and a group of young, talented and hungry players all tied down to long-term contracts with the club.

Arsenal on the other hand are going in the complete opposite direction with their team looking bereft of both direction and self-belief.

The simple notion that the club are having to wait for a good time to announce Arsene Wenger’s new contract in the face of a likely supporter backlash is an indication that it might not be the best move for the football club.

 

Contrasting curves

Wanyama outclassed the Gunners on Sunday but his performance meant more in a wider sense, it illustrated the opposite curves the two teams are now on.

When Arsenal secured the infamous Premier League title of 2003/04 at White Hart Lane they were a side that bullied Tottenham with power, speed and decisiveness.

As Spurs look set to push Chelsea right to the wire for this season’s title they bullied the Gunners in exactly the same way whilst Wenger’s side look likely to fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in his career in North London.

 

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

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