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Offshore drilling, England: at Arsenal 5, Tottenham Hotspur 2

Nov 17, 2012, 10:10 AM EDT

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

The season’s first North London Derby was defined in the 18th minute when former Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor was dismissed after a studs up lunge on Santi Cazorla. Tottenham, up one at the time though Adebayor, went on to concede the next four goals, Spurs losing their fourth in five when full time blew on the Gunners’ 5-2 victory.

The result may amplify the already tedious criticism of Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas, with English football determined to permanently brand the man who had to audacity to try (and fail) to change Chelsea. Few pundits will note that Tottenham looked the better side before going a man down. Conceding possession while waiting to utilize their speed, Spurs looked set to expose an Arsenal side that had no way to contain Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

Thanks to Adebayor, Arsenal didn’t have to, Arsene Wenger’s team comfortably winning a match which will be spun into another strike against Villas-Boas.

Man of the Match: It’s difficult to honor a best player when 72 minutes of 11-on-10 soccer allowed Arsenal to dominate without star performances. With Santi Cazorla, however, there was reason for Gooners to be encouraged.

After being among the best players in the league for over the season’s first month, Cazorla’s been merely very good since. Today, after a slow start, he recaptured that early season form, and while that stride may not be as easy to replicate when the opposition’s not debilitated, Arsenal has reason to think their best player may ready for another run.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Emmanuel Adebayor changes matches.

Last week against another of his former clubs, Adebayor provided a small spark, his return from injury reminding us there are few forwards in the world that can match the Togo international’s grace, speed, and athleticism. The performance gave Villas-Boas cause to switch his formation, the 4-3-3 coach going to a 4-4-2 so he could get both Adebayor and Jermain Defoe into the team.

Today, we were reminded of another of Adebayor’s gifts – the gift of very poor judgment. For the fourth time in his career (the third time from Howard Webb), Adebayor saw red in a Premier League match, with today’s challenge being inexcusable.

Even if you put the health concern aside (and that’s really the biggest concern), lunging studs up is an indefensible decision. Let alone in the opponent’s half. Let alone so early in the game. Let alone with your team up 1-0.

Adebayor’s decision cost his team the match.

MORE PREMIER LEAGUE: Phil Neville out 6-8 weeks.

Podolski, Giroud continue to contribute.

We brought it up after Arsenal’s trip to Schalke, but with the duo combining for two goals today, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud appear to have fully woken up. Having combined for six goals in the last three games, the pair have left their early season struggles behind. For the season, the two summer buys have combined for seven goals and three assists.

Their emergence, along with Theo Walcott claiming the right wing role, have solidified an attack that struggled for goals at the season’s onset. Arsenal went 211 minutes without scoring to start the season. Over their last four games, the Gunners have scored 13 times.

MORE PREMIER LEAGUE: Man City unload on Guzan, Villa

Villas-Boas is willing to change it up.

Throughout his short coaching career, André Villas-Boas has been a 4-3-3 man. And he probably still is a 4-3-3 man, even though he came out in a surprise 4-4-2 today. Adebayor and Defoe started up top, with Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale pushed back into traditional wide midfield roles.

With Adebayor suspended for next week’s match versus West Ham United, we’ll likely see a return to the 4-3-3; however, going forward, the new formation could remain an option, especially with Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson failing to make an impact at their new club.

Those two attacking midfielders are the biggest losers in a possible formation switch, but it’s a loss they’ve brought upon themselves. Neither Dempsey nor Sigurdsson have done enough to keep one of the forwards on the bench. Against Manchester City, Adebayor showed what he can bring to the team, and Defoe is contributing too much, too often to be relegated to the bench.

Villas-Boas is putting his best players out there and finding a system that suits them. Right now, neither Dempsey nor Sigurdsson are among them.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Arsenal had five different goal scorers: Per Mertesacker (which first for Arsenal), Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla, Walcott.
  • Thomas Vermaelen got another start at left back ahead of André Santos, who came on late for Podolski. There’s no reason not to persist with playing the center half out of position until Kieran Gibbs returns.
  • Hugo Lloris was back in goal for Tottenham. We talked about that and Dempsey’s benching here.
  • Despite playing on a shorthanded team, Gareth Bale still terrorized Arsenal’s defense, the Wales international eventually scoring Tottenham’s second goal.
  • As you’d expect when Arsenal’s up a man, they dominated possession, posting a 66 percent Opta number.
  1. bishopofblunder - Nov 18, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    As much as I like Dempsey, I have to say that Dafoe and Adebayor looked dangerous paired up top. Granted, it turned out to be a rather small sample size with the ejection. But it looks like Dempsey would have to considerably increase his play quality or find a place in a 4-man midfield. Or both, really.

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