The least surprising transfer of the summer has finally been completed as Gareth Bale secured his longed-for move to the Bernebeu to become Real Madrid’s latest galáctico and thus deprive Spurs of roughly 50% of last year’s total team effectiveness. The price varies according to which source you read, but it’s an eye-watering figure which Spurs have already spent on half a dozen or so players in the hope that quantity may in some measure replace quality. It remains to be seen how Bale will fare at a big club, but his is a spectacular talent which arguably deserves a much bigger stage.
Spurs meanwhile, having resigned themselves some time ago to the loss of their talisman, turned out at The Emirates yesterday with their friends in the media explaining to anyone who would listen that – despite their Bale-less attacking threat – they were now much better placed than opponents Arsenal to achieve success this season. The new definition of success in these commercialised Murdoch days is, of course, a top four finish: gone are the days when fans might argue about who will win what trophy. Now it’s all about whether your favourite club can qualify for the Champions League, and how many millions that will net. That those millions will for the most part disappear into the bank accounts of their overpaid heroes is a point that apparently does not faze today’s Premier League fan.
The media as an entity appears to have a problem with Arsenal, and they seem disposed to address this by making more of a fuss of Tottenham than such a pallid power really merit. The BBC in particular sound almost plaintive when they reflect on the fact that Arsenal’s recent Champions League qualifications have been at the expense of Spurs and their assertions that things might now be different – with a new-look Tottenham transcending tired old Arsenal – tend to be accompanied by a collective stamp of the foot and sullen pout. But all the media posturing in the world will not change a thing on the field, and it was on the immaculate turf of the magnificent home of Arsenal that Spurs yesterday received a lesson in how little things have changed where the balance of power in North London is concerned.
After an adrenalin-fueled bright opening, Spurs were never really at the races in this latest derby. Once Arsenal had ridden out that initial flurry their own game took effortless control – helped by the fact that they had taken the lead while the tide was still slightly against them. A gorgeous move from centre midfield across to the right found Tomas Rosicky in acres of space and he used it to full effect with a penetrating low cross into the box. And there was Olivier Giroud darting towards the near post to beat Hugo Lloris with a sweet finish from the outside of his left foot, finding the tiniest gap between the hapless ‘keeper and the upright to give Arsenal the lead.
For the rest of the first half, Arsenal threatened to increase their advantage against a Spurs side knocked out of their early, optimistic stride. After the interval, the away side began to make their presence more effectively felt, pressing Arsenal back in search of a point at least. But although there were alarms, and despite quite intense late pressure as the the home team defended in depth, the breakthrough failed to appear.
Tottenham could have no real complaints about the result, and may reflect by way of consolation that at least they didn’t ship five this time, as on the last two visits to The Emirates. Arsenal have an altogether more positive world view today; three derby points in the bag, ahead of Spurs in the table as they finished last season, and today they appear to have made a transfer statement as well, with the pending capture of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid – a transfer that may, ironically, have been made possible by Tottenham’s failure to hang on to Bale.
Players come and players go as millions upon millions change hands in the transfer market. But a happy Arsene Wenger may well reflect today that some things are less susceptible to change, Arsenal’s dominance of North London being one among them. Ozil will add considerably to the Gunners’ ammunition and firing power, just as the loss of Bale will inevitably weaken Spurs. It’s been a good weekend after all for the Gooners.