Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal: Two Fateful Minutes

Arsenal outplayed Tottenham for almost 95 minutes of yesterday's edition of the North London Derby. Unfortunately, the game consisted of 97. However, it would be misguided to say that Arsenal deserved anything out of the game. Once again, the stubborn insistence on refusing to coach the basic tenets of team defense has consigned us to defeat.

That said, the first 20 minutes was one of the most heartening periods of play in the season. The side defended tenaciously and played with the drive and energy that has been sorely lacking against lesser opponents. To their credit, the hosts also defended well and kept Arsenal largely on the periphery.

Despite the overall fine play of the team, there were individuals who were found wanting. Theo Walcott was invisible throughout the match. I had expressed concern about his new contract back when he signed it, and occasions like this are exactly why. He added nothing.

Olivier Giroud was another one. The fine form he had displayed a month or two ago has dissipated to nothing. He did do a fine job in his target man duties, but without a support striker up there with him there is no one to collect the scraps. But, when he has the ball at his feet and an opportunity on goal, I never think it likely that he will score.

Exhibit A came 10 minutes in, as a long raking ball from Mikel Artera was corralled beautifully by the French striker. Had he acted decisively, he would have had a free shot on Hugo Lloris' goal. Instead, he hesitated and allowed Jan Vertonghen to slide in and clear the danger.

Other than a few crosses that Lloris collected (and one excellent intervention to cut out a low pass from the excellent Carl Jenkinson), Arsenal never seriously threatened. Our counterparts, on the other hand, were content to soak up pressure and look for an opportunity. It's odd, I had figured that they'd tear into us from the off and try and take advantage of our shaky defending. Their caution paid off though, as a single ridiculous two-minute stretch was enough to give them all three points.

It began in the 37th minute with Spurs breaking upfield on the counter. Gylfi Sigurdsson's pass to the onrushing Gareth Bale was excellent, but it should never have been allowed to put him in alone on Wojceich Szczesny. Thomas Vermaelen - who did have a decent opening 20 minutes - was caught out and could only hopelessly lunge (and miss) at the pass. Per Mertesacker was statuesque in allowing Bale to run by him uncontested.

Finally, and this may be harsh, Szczesny wasn't great on it either. Bale only had a few seconds after collecting the ball, and Szczesny did come partially out of his net. He then stopped and allowed Bale to pick his shot, where a simple dive at his feet would have had a great chance of smothering the danger  (There isn't much of a penalty worry there because those tend to be cases where the forward has rounded the keeper rather than the keeper diving at the striker straight on).

Most sides in the world, coached by damn near anyone else in the world, would have been stung into action by the goal conceded and tighten things up. Arsenal, coached by the single most inept tactician in Europe, instead conceded another just like it a minute later.

This time, it was Scott Parker who played the defense-splitting pass. This time, it was Vermaelen who stood rooted in place while his man eased past him and onto the diagonal ball. This time, there wasn't much Szczesny could do, though the nitpick is that he took a terrible first few steps off his line, away from the direction that Aaron Lennon was running.

Either way, a fiercely-contested 0-0 where anything was possible became 2-0 and mission impossible in the span of two minutes, mainly because the powers that be at this club couldn't coach Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta to defend a parking space.

The hits kept coming, too. Just before the hour mark, Tomas Rosicky made a substitute appearance. I'm fine with that...hell, he probably should have started in place of Aaron Ramsey. But, instead of taking off the Welshman (who was in the book by this point, mind), he took off Jenkinson and shifted Ramsey to right back. The best part is that the Corporal was easily our best player on the day on both sides of the ball. He put in quite a few tasty crosses that deserved better, and his energy often had the home side on the back foot.

While Rosicky did provide some incisive passes once the rust came off, overall the substitution had made us significantly less dangerous. Had it been for Ramsey, the balance would have been far better.

To be fair though, it was a wonderful, slashing run from Ramsey that led to our goal. The Welshman eviscerated three defenders before being hauled down just outside the area. Walcott curled a decent ball into the 18, which was contested by Mertesacker and Bale. The BFG got a slight touch, deflecting it off of Bale's head and past the diving Lloris.

I won't lie - despite it all, I thought 2-2 was the most likely scoreline once that one went in. Perhaps this was the last dregs of my naivety talking, but I felt like we'd kick on and remind our neighbors about their place in the world. Instead, Arsenal muddled along the same way they had before. Actually, the best two chances of the remaining time both fell to Spurs. Bale missed a sitter when Sigurdsson put a chance for him on a plate (OMG BETTER THAN MESSI!), then the Icelandic midfielder passed up a wide-open shot to try and pass to the double-covered Bale.

And that, friends, is the real kick in the balls about this game. Spurs are a very good team, but they are far from being a great one. As bad as we've been this season, as horrific as the last month or two have been, we still easily could have won this game. I shudder to think about what United are going to do to us when we play them next.

The rest of the half petered out, and even six minutes of injury time were not enough to fashion a half-decent chance to test Lloris. Our season went out with a soundless whimper, against our most hated rivals.

Save us, unnamed Qatari businessmen. You're our only hope.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Monreal 7, Vermaelen 4, Mertesacker 5, Jenkinson 8 (Rosicky 7), Arteta 7 (Podolski 6), Wilshere 6, Ramsey 6, Cazorla 7, Walcott 5, Giroud 5

Man of the Match: LEEEEERRRROOOOOYYYY Jenkinson! One of the few bright spots of a miserable day.