By Mo Khan
Arsenal beat Tottenham at Stevenage Borough on Monday night as the Gunners' prolific strikeforce settled a tight, scrappy north London derby.
Second-half strikes from Nicklas Bendtner and Arturo Lupoli ensured the latter's first-half penalty miss was consigned to irrelevant history as Neil Banfield's men secured their second away win of the season.
Manuel Almunia's inclusion in goal, at the expense of young Italian Vito Mannone, was the only change from the team that drew 0-0 with Chelsea last week. Mannone dropped to the bench.
The highly-rated Matthew Connolly again partnered Sean Kelly in central defence and Alexandre Song was in tandem with Fabrice Muamba in the middle of the park.
Lupoli and Bendtner led the line but, with Arsenal lacking the creative flair of Ryan Smith - on loan at Leicester City - and Quincy, the impressive Republic of Ireland Under-21 international Patrick Cregg assumed their mantle to provide two astute assists.
The game got off to a slow start with both sides exchanging misplaced passes but the Gunners were soon on the attack down Tottenham's left-hand side with Bendtner. As the tall Dane strode towards the Spurs penalty area he was crudely upended by Charlie Lee. The resulting free-kick but it went straight into the wall and Spurs cleared at the second attempt.
Arsenal were playing more like the home side with the relentless running and closing down of Song and Muamba allowing the Tottenham midfield little or no time on the ball to engineer a move.
With eight minutes gone it was Song who won back possession and immediately released the quicksilver Lupoli on the left, but the Brescia-born hitman's fierce shot from the angle was beaten away by Radek Cerny in the Tottenham goal.
Moments later, Arsenal fashioned a wonderful move with Cregg the architect. The 19-year-old played a superb ball forward from the right flank into Bendtner. The Dane rose highest and headed the ball into the onrushing Lupoli's path. For a split second it looked as though the Italian was shaping up to hit it on the volley, but he seemed to hestitate at the last moment and the ball was cleared.
The home side did have the ball in the net after 17 minutes, but Stephen Kelly's strike was disallowed for a push on Almunia.
Connolly was again in inspired form, a towering presence both at the back and when Arsenal swung in crosses from set pieces. Twice the young defender went close with headers as Cregg continued to produce quality deliveries into the box.
The match was drifting aimlessly towards half time when, three minutes before the break, Anthony Stokes and Lupoli played a one-two on the left of the Spurs penalty area and the Irishman was brought down by Charlie Lee. The referee awarded the penalty and Lupoli stepped up but his low drive was palmed away by Cerny for the last noteworthy action of the half.
Tottenham squandered their best opening of the game 10 minutes into the second half when Jamie O'Hara found himself clean through with only Almunia to beat, but he scuffed his shot and the Spaniard saved easily.
Spurs striker Lee Barnard finished second only to Lupoli in the Reserve League South scoring charts last term, and he almost showed just why on the hour mark, but his swivel and shot on the half-volley flew over the bar.
Seconds later, Bendtner was sent tumbling by a Spurs defender but the referee waved play on. As the Dane showed his frustration at the decision, Arsenal won back possession and Cregg released Bendtner with a perfectly weighted slide-rule pass. The Danish Under-17 forward ran on to it in a flash and found the target from a tight angle before wheeling off in celebration. He will feel justice was served and he savoured the moment, notching his eighth goal of the season.
The game was settled after 78 minutes as Lupoli made amends for his earlier penalty miss. Cregg again was the supplier as his ball into the box was aerially contested by Bendtner and Cerny in the Spurs box. There was only going to be one winner and Lupoli latched onto his strike partner's flick to tap into an empty net from three yards out.
Arsenal almost increased their advantage with Stokes and Lupoli both coming close with long-range efforts in the final 10 minutes.
In the end, Banfield's men had secured the points with two well-taken goals, despite a subdued performance. Winning even when you're not playing well however, is a sure sign of a quality outfit.
- Cregg Yellow Card
- Muamba Yellow Card
- Lupoli Goal!
- Bendtner Goal!