Premier League – Spurs Beat Arsenal and Chelsea Move Closer to Title

Tottenham Win The North London Derby

As was the case with their game against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, the early part of Saturday’s North London derby appeared to be a typical Spurs performance – on both occasions I was pleasantly surprised by what followed.

Kane heads in the winner against Arsenal on Saturday
Kane heads in the winner against Arsenal on Saturday

After dominating the early exchanges, Tottenham fell behind after some poor defending to a well-taken Mesut Özil goal and went into half-time 1-0 down on the score sheet, but ahead in manner of performance and time of possession.  It is goals that win games though and, luckily for Mauricio Pochettino, he has a man who has found the knack of getting them. That Harry Kane grew up 15 minutes from White Hart Lane and is a Spurs fan must have made scoring a brace against their biggest rivals – including a fantastically placed header to win the match four minutes from the end – all the more sweeter for the English striker.  To those who remain in the crowd rather than on the pitch, it is great to see a local lad come good for the club.  As the chant goes, Harry Kane, he’s one of of our own.

Any victory over Arsenal will is significant for us Tottenham supporters, but this result had wider implications as well.  It lifted Spurs above the Gunners in the table (albeit probably just for three days, but we will get to that in a minute); moved Pochettino’s men to within a point of the Champions League qualification places; and extended a secretly-not-too-bad home league record against Arsenal in the Premier League era.  Since the rebranding of the top flight in 1992, Spurs have finished below their arch rivals in 20 of the 22 completed seasons.  However, in the 23 North London derbies played at White Hart Lane in that period, Tottenham actually have a positive record, winning eight, drawing ten and losing just five.

Despite all the good feeling that surrounds Spurs right now, there is unlikely to be much time to enjoy it.  On Tuesday, they face a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool, who have thrashed them on each of the last three meetings between the two sides, while the Gunners have a home fixture against bottom club Leicester.  Why could there not have been a break this week, followed by the F.A. Cup this weekend and Tottenham could have basked in the glow of their derby win for a fortnight.  Instead, reality will come crashing back down upon them (us), along with some Daniel Sturridge goals and – somehow – Martin Skrtel will get a brace.

Chelsea Extend Lead + Rest of the Action

On Saturday, Chelsea did something that no team had done since December 20th, 2014 – they allowed Aston Villa to score a Premier League goal.  Despite this blemish, Jose Mourinho did record his first victory at Villa Park thanks to a second half strike by Branislav Ivanovic, giving Chelsea all three points and meaning that Villa’s 12th (!) goal of the season was merely a footnote.  It could turn out that last Saturday was a crucial day in the title race, since Manchester City only rescued a point from their home fixture with Hull thanks to a last-minute James Milner free-kick, denying the Tigers what would have been a much-needed victory.

The gap at the top between the Blues and the reigning champions is now 7 points and any further slip-ups will be fatal to City’s title ambitions.  On the plus side for them, they will soon have YaYa Toure back available to play after his absence for the Africa Cup of Nations, as well as his compatriot, new signing Wilfried Bony.  Both head to Manchester as champions of Africa, as Côte D’Ivoire beat Ghana in a lengthy shootout on Sunday, with the Ivorian keeper scoring the crucial winning spot kick in the 11th round of penalties.

The other derby at the weekend was much less exciting than the North London one, as honors were shared on Merseyside with a 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Everton.  Queens Park Rangers may be in the midst of changing managers, but they may want to alter their luck at the same time, as they were beaten by a late winner by Southampton’s Sadio Mane at Loftus Road.  QPR’s away form is so poor (it literally could not be worse) so they really cannot afford to drop points at home when they were so close to getting a draw.

Manchester United also left it late to pick up anything from their match with West Ham, as it took an injury-time strike from Daley Blind to earn Louis Van Gaal’s side a point.  For the fourth time in 2015, Burnley failed to win a match they had been 2-0 up in, on this occasion they were held to a 2-2 draw by a second-half come back by fellow strugglers, West Brom.

I'm going out on a limb and saying this seems wrong
I’m going out on a limb and saying this seems wrong

Crystal Palace won for the fifth time in six matches since Alan Pardew took over as manager, edging bottom club Leicester 1-0, though the big talking point was a flash point on the touchline between Foxes boss Nigel Pearson and James McCarthy.  The Eagles player clattered into Pearson – seemingly accidentally – but the Leicester manager held him down on the ground by the throat and would not release him.  Things got stranger on Sunday as reports emerged from the club that Pearson had been sacked, but that story was recanted the following morning and he remains in charge heading into Tuesday’s trip to Arsenal. Elsewhere, Newcastle and Stoke drew 1-1 in the “Battle for 10th place”; and Jermain Defoe scored his second goal for Sunderland, but former Black Cats player Ki Sung-yueng headed an equalizer after the break, meaning the contest ended all-square.

Midweek Action

As mentioned before, the F.A. Cup returns this weekend with the fifth round (and Spurs are already out of the competition so there’s a good chance I will not post anything about it), but there is a full slate of Premier League fixtures on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Alongside the matches involving the North London clubs, on Tuesday there are two crucial bottom of the table clashes as Hull host Aston Villa, while QPR head to the North East to face Sunderland.

On Wednesday, one of the most intriguing games is at Selhurst Park, as Pardew’s Palace entertain his former club, Newcastle, with the opportunity to move within two points of the Magpies in the table.  Chelsea will be looking to solidify their lead at the top as they host Everton and Manchester City face a tough trip to Stoke, who won at the Etihad back in August.  The other two teams currently in the top four both have home matches against teams who play in claret and blue, as Southampton and Manchester United face West Ham and Burnley respectively.  The other fixture sees West Brom take on Swansea at the Hawthorns.

Predictions

Last week, 4-6; Season, 108-142

Home teams listed first

Tuesday

Arsenal vs Leicester – Home win

Hull vs Aston Villa – Draw

Sunderland vs QPR – Home win

Liverpool vs Tottenham – Home win

Wednesday

Chelsea vs Everton – Home win

Manchester United vs Burnley – Home win

Southampton vs West Ham – Draw

Stoke vs Manchester City – Away win

Crystal Palace vs Newcastle – Home win

West Brom vs Swansea – Home win

 

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