At times, Tottenham Hotspur struggled in the midfield. For large portions of the game, their strikers were left isolated, arguably because they weren't working hard enough. Though Arsenal were not spectacular, they were the better side for at least half of the first North London Derby of the 2011-12 season. However, some moments of fantastic quality from Spurs and some serious blunders from Arsenal gifted the home side a valuable three points at White Hart Lane, and it would be tough to argue that they didn't deserve their 2-1 victory.
Spurs started strong, creating a number of opportunities against a slow-looking Arsenal defense, but were not able to capitalize on any of their three great chances during the first 10 minutes. Eventually, Arsenal settled down and got into the game, perhaps even controlling it to some small degree - with one exception. Aaron Ramsey, the highly touted Welshman who is expected to be a centerpiece for the Gunners' midfield for years to come, routinely gave the ball away.
Arsenal kept the ball well for much of the half, but it only took one giveaway and one brilliant counter for Spurs to take the lead. In the 40th minute, Emmanuel Adebayor controlled the ball on the break, then lofted a great ball to the left edge of the penalty area for Rafael van der Vaart. The Dutchman controlled expertly and hit a brilliant left-footed volley past Wojciech Szczesny at his far post.
Neither team made any changes at halftime, and it didn't take long for Arsenal to find an equalizer. However, it was through relatively improbable means. Surging forward from his central defense position in the 51st minute, Alex Song took the ball to the left flank, then hit a cross towards the six-yard box. Ramsey was there and poked the ball home, leveling the match. Rafael van der Vaart had an opportunity to close down Song, but simply let the Cameroonian international fly by him, allowing him plenty of time and space to put in a cross.
For the next 13 minutes, Arsenal had complete control of the match. Sensing that his team needed someone with a bit of energy, athleticism and bite in the midfield, Harry Redknapp brought in Sandro for a tired-looking van der Vaart. While his performance featured a great goal and other moments of quality, van der Vaart looked lazy and defense and seriously hit a wall physically around the 60th minute, which is not exactly an uncommon problem for him.
Arsenal would continue to have a majority of the possession, but the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Scott Parker and Sandro, along with left winger Gareth Bale kept Arsenal at bay and prevented them from creating chances. Despite the fact that Kyle Walker is not a fantastic defender and Tottenham had no one wide protecting him - Modric pinched in quite a bit - the Gunners didn't really take advantage of this deficiency and attack down their left frequently. Why, we'll never know.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Bakary Sagna picked up an injury after a 50-50 challenge with Beniot Assou-Ekotto forced him into the rubber on the side of the pitch, then into the adboard. Sagna appeared to injure his angle significantly and was carried via stretcher to the locker room. Carl Jenkinson came on as a replacement. Yossi Benayoun replaced Theo Walcott shortly after to give Jenkinson a bit of defensive cover. Walcott was not impressive on the night, and Benayoun looked much better both going forward and defending than the man he replaced.
However, that wouldn't prevent Tottenham from finding a winner that was 1/3 Walker's skill, 1/3 Szczesny's error, and 1/3 bad luck. In the 73rd minute, after a bit of a scramble, the ball fell to Walker 25 yards away from goal. To the surprise of everyone, he stepped up and hit an absolute bullet of a shot. Not anticipating a shot from the right back, Szczesny reacted a bit late and barely got his fingertip to the ball, but couldn't stop it from hitting the back of the net. Much like Danny Rose before him, Kyle Walker became a Spurs hero with an improbable goal in his first North London Derby.
Arsenal would press for an equalizer, but never came close to finding it. Scott Parker broke up everything that came near him in the midfield before he was substituted for Jake Livermore in stoppage time, while Gareth Bale ran by Jenkinson at will for the final 20 minutes of the match. The final whistle blew with the scoreboard showing a 2-1 win for Tottenham, a massive win not just for the sake of getting one over on their rivals, but in the race for Champions League places.