BBC BLOGS - BBC Sport: Phil McNulty
« Previous | Main | Next »

White Hart pain for Wenger

Post categories:

Phil McNulty | 06:25 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger are aiming at contrasting goals as the Premier League campaign enters its final straight - and a swift lesson in body language during the north London derby deadlock told you who was more confident of hitting the target.

Redknapp's eyes are solely on salvation for Spurs after being employed to mount a rescue job at White Hart Lane, while failure to reach the Champions League is an option Wenger cannot afford to contemplate.

White Hart Lane offers almost a "reach out and touch" experience when it comes to examining Premier League managers at close quarters under intense pressure - and what an education it was.

Spurs were frustrated at a failure to break down determined 10-man Arsenal, operating in reduced circumstances after the north London derby witnessed another public demonstration of Emmanuel Eboue's flawed temperament.

But Redknapp was a figure of relative calm during the game and was able to talk positively in his post-match inquest about the promising signs shown by his expensively re-shaped side.

Redknapp's only serious show of frustration came when Aaron Lennon wasted a perfect crossing opportunity late on - it will not be the last time he unleashes a high-pitched squeal in those circumstances - and when Luka Modric missed Spurs' best chance in injury time.

Wenger issued similarly optimistic bulletins about Arsenal, but his agitated display in the technical area hinted at what he must accept in his darker moments - that they are in serious danger of missing out on the money, prestige and attraction of next season's Champions League.

He stalked the touchline, going through the full range of emotions - arms outstretched, imploring his players, turning to remonstrate with his backroom staff and indulging in several discussions with the fourth official.

The frustration continued afterwards when he complained bitterly about referee Mike Dean's decision to rule out Eboue's early goal.

He insisted he did not want "to develop a paranoia" about referees - at which point you could have gambled your mortgage and life savings on this particular sentence being followed by the word "but".

Wenger said a foul on Jonathan Woodgate was "illusionary" - a term that can also be applied to any suggestions Arsenal remain as serious title contenders.

He is a man and a coach who deserves the greatest admiration for the football principles he simply refuses to desert, but it did not appear that watching this match contained any moments of pleasure or satisfaction for him.

Arsene Wenger

Arsenal, of course, were resilient and may well have been satisfied to escape from White Hart Lane with a point. The bigger picture, however, is not a promising one.

The creative spark has temporarily left this Arsenal team. Wenger must hope the return of injured Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, plus the introduction of Andrey Arshavin will re-ignite it.

But the longer the flame is extinguished, the greater the danger will become of Arsenal falling away in fifth, or possibly even sixth, position in the Premier League.

Of course, Wenger can point to a run of 11 games unbeaten - but seven of those have been draws so that particular statistics tells a white lie. If you cannot turn some of those draws into wins you will not win titles.

The purists will hope they recover the poise and style that delights us all. The realists will tell you the purists may not get their wish this season.

And there is also a question of balance that may not neccessarily be addressed by the acquisition of Arshavin.

Arshavin is lavishly-gifted, but it is hard not to believe a more pressing requirement is a central midfield player of power and presence to complement Fabregas. Alex Song is an able stand-in rather than an automatic choice.

Wenger can have no complaints about Eboue's red card - or at least he should not have. He droned on and on before referee Dean rightly lost patience and brandished the yellow that effectively set him up for his sending off in the wake of a needless flick at Modric.

Spurs failed to take advantage of that numerical supremacy, and there will be lingering annoyance that they wasted a perfect opportunity to record their first league win against Arsenal in 10 years.

But if Redknapp's more modest target is to avoid relegation while building for next season, then he had reason to be well satisfied. Spurs will not be in the relegation zone at season's end.

Redknapp has performed a vital task by restoring confidence to Luka Modric. The Croatian was outstanding, although his position on the left flank narrowed Spurs' style and was hopefully a temporary tactical measure.

Wilson Palacios also hinted at great promise, although that £14m transfer fee from Wigan remains eye-wateringly high. He is a muscular figure who enjoyed the physical aspects of the north London derby and will provide a perfect counterpoint to the delicate Modric in future.

In fact, Palacios looked like the sort of powerful workhorse that would not go amiss in the current Arsenal team.

Robbie Keane's return to White Hart Lane - hugely welcomed despite his summer desertion to Liverpool - came and went. He was busy and had a couple of opportunities, but still looked like the next case for Redknapp's well-practised art of rebuilding confidence and self-belief.

Redknapp will move forward with increased confidence about Spurs' ability to move away from the wrong end of the table - for Wenger, the agonies on show on the White Hart Lane touchline may worsen unless Arsenal rediscover the creation that has become their hallmark.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.