LONDON: Capital football history could be turned around for the first time after 18 years after Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane to tighten their grip on third place and leave their north London rivals seven points behind in fifth with 10 games to go.
For almost all of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal the Gunners have been top dogs in northLondon. They have always finished above Tottenham in the league at the season’s end and managed that even after falling eight points adrift at this stage last season.
However, the uncertainty of Arsenal’s club and team management was reflected in the alacrity with which fans and media seized on reports that a Middle East consortium is preparing a £1.5bn bid to buy out the club at around £20,000 a share.
The consortium was reported to include wealthy investors from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and had been working on the deal for the past four months. It would offer American owner Stan Kroenke – “Silent Stan” as he is labelled by fans – £20,000 per share.
Since Kroenke Sports Enterprise Group owns 66.83pc of Arsenal that would add up to £830m and mean a profit for him of £350,000 on his 2011 purchase.
Sources close to the Arsenal board have insisted maintained there has been no approach, informal or otherwise and that the American owner remains “in it for the long term.” Kroenke’s sports empire includes Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL, as well as Major League Soccer club the Colorado Rapids.
Uzbek oil and aluminium magnate Alisher Usmanov remains Arsenal’s second largest shareholder with a 29.96pc holding. However Kroenke has refused to invite him on to the board. He is thought to be prepared to work with the consortium.
Usmanov has insisted he can provide the cash to help Arsenal cut the most expensive ticket prices in the Premier League and prevent future sales of star players.
Arsenal headed toWhite Hart Lane without fullbacks Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs but Tottenham had England striker Jermain Defoe back on the bench after an ankle injury. Spurs were also buoyed by the nomination in midweek of Andres Villas-Boas as manager of the month and of wingback Gareth Bale as player of the month.
Bale had scored yet another magnificent goal – his 15th in the league this term and sixth in six successive league games – to earn Spurs a 3-2 midweek win at West Ham. Jens Lehmann, former Arsenal keeper, said before the game: “It’s good he scored it in that game so he couldn’t save it for this one.”
Yet Bale it was who – without matching the explosive nature of his midweek strike – opened the score nine minutes before half-time. Gylfi Sigurdsson, preferred ‘in the hole’ in place of Owen Holtby, provided the assist for the Welshman’s 20th goal of term in all competitions.
Two minutes later and Tottenham should have the game secured when Aaron Lennon scored their second goal. But they allowed Arsenal to hit back five minutes into the second half when Per Mertesacker headed home from Theo Walcott’s cross.
Now, like a refreshed boxer, Tottenham came back off the ropes. They should have killed it off but Benoit Assou-Ekotto was too high, Defoe was wide and Sigurdsson was too hesitant with only Wojciech Szczesny to beat.
With time running out Wenger evidenced Arsenal’s increasing concern by bringing on Lukas Podolski for playmaker Mikel Arteta. In the six minutes of stoppage time Podolski saw a drive deflected for a corner. Szczesny charged upfield for the corner but all in vain.
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