ARSENAL v TOTTENHAM
A reflection of a demanding 12 days
Due to a mis-communication, the review is somewhat later than might have been the norm for such an important game like an NDL. But maybe we needed some time to celebrate the victory, without analysing the various aspects that went to produce such a stunning victory.
Perhaps Jack Wilshere summed it up best when he said … ‘Arsenal have clicked’?
So let me just roll the clock back to where our Christmas schedule began: December 23rd, a home-tie against Chelsea. We had not won a match since December 4th. We drew 1-1 in a very open game against Everton, Then lost away at Napoli in the Champions League, but it was enough to get us through to the group stages. Then came the dour home game with Chelsea that finished 0-0. Not surprising, given how few shots on target by either team. But that point is the difference between us and the rest of the chasing pack right now. It might have been a disappointment at the time, as a win would have pushed us 7 points clear, but less so now?
Three days later we travelled the short distance to West Ham. This was the game where we lost Aaron Ramsey, and welcomed the return of Podoski from the bench. Two goals from Theo Walcott and a sealer from Lukas Podolski, meant we ran out comfortable winners in the end. For Theo it was an impressive return to his best, after being shut out against Chelsea. It also got us back to winning ways.
Three days later we make the long trek to Newcastle, who were in impressive form themselves. Another game remembered for injuries and sickness before the game, and big ones in it: the changes that were made because Vermaelen and Monreal did not travel through sickness. Ozil was left behind because of a shoulder injury. Then, both Gibbs and Giroud came off with injuries that would mean they would miss the next two games at least.
Despite starting the stronger of the two sides, it took until 65th minute for Olivier Giroud to have a glancing header and thus break the deadlock. It left it for Newcastle to dominate the final 20 minutes, but our defenders stayed calm and we secured a 0-1 victory. Those three points took us back to the top of the table going into the New Year, but it was MOTM performance by Tomas Rosicky that gave the team the drive and determination that helped maintain this winning sequence.
Yet another 2-day break before we took on Cardiff at home. Nacho Monreal recovered enough to replace Gibbs, while Jack Wilshere replaced Rosicky, who had a slight injury from the previous match. But it was over to Lukas Podolski, making his first start as the central striker, replacing the stricken Giroud, with Waclott continuing on the right and Santi Cazorla on the left. This game needs little in the way of refreshing the memory, it being the most recent. There was the disappointing return of Podolski as the main striker; and Cardiff seemingly able to keep us out. So it was no surprise to see him being replaced Nicholas Bendtner in the 65th minute, along with Tomas Rosicky, after Flamini was withdrawn.
Almost immediately the balance of the team looked better, as Arsenal lay siege to the Cardiff goal. The dramatic concluding minutes will long remain in our memories? A nice interplay with Cazorla and Monreal and his cross to the far post, Sagna sees his header saved by the ‘keeper, but only to witness Bendtner arrive and rifle in a bullet across the goal and into the far corner.
1-0, but the drama did not end there. Nicky B landed on his right foot and it got caught under the diving keeper. Yet another injury, out for 4 weeks minimum with a sprained ankle. But he had barely made his assisted walk around the pitch to the much relieved fans applause, when a quick breakaway saw Walcott dink a second goal. His first home goal of the season. 2-0, and still TOTL!
That was the backdrop to this FA Cup and NLD match.
I felt it was worth taking that in, to place this fixture in context if you like. It was not just any Cup game. It was not just any NLD. It came on the back of some extreme physical effort from the entire squad that took part, and could be forgiven if the whole thing suffered because of it.
However, nothing could be further from the truth – apart from the opening few minutes when Spurs moved the ball about nicely, and a misplaced clearance by Koscielny went straight to Ericksen. He got first run on Sagna and only had Fabiansky to beat, but delayed too long and Fab blocked it away for a corner. Thereafter it was Arsenal who made the quick passes, got the better chances, and really dominated the game with ease.
We were superior in virtually every department. Spurs had moments of individual skill, but Arsenal had the collective skills, and it was that which proved decisive. Perhaps also, it was the speed at which we could move the ball forwards. No surprise then, that it was another master class from Mr Endeavor himself, Tomas Rosicky, who provided much of that, and for once he got his reward with a goal he created by that very tireless running that I speak of now. That was an individual moment which he thoroughly deserved.
However, in the collective spirit he was ably assisted in the running of Walcott, the interplay with Cazorla and Wilshere, but special mention has to go to Serge Gnabry. 18 years old, playing in his first NDL, indeed, having his first start since September, and he positively shined. His interplay with Walcott was great. The perfect pass for Cazorla’s goal was sublime. He made a couple of others of equal merit, and had a snap shot from the edge of the box that skimmed over the bar. If it was somebody’s first visit, they would not have known he was: a, not a regular team member; or b, just 18 years old, such was the mature performance he put in.
The second goal came about after Danny Rose thought he’d be clever and twist away from the rapidly closing Rosicky. So, in failing, and being the last defender, he doubled his ignominy when Rosi darted away for a one-on-one with the keeper, and delightfully chipped him with a sand wedge instep.
It was not a game without flashpoints. Wilshere squaring up to Bentaleb, the Spurs youngster, but the ref dealt with that quietly. Chiriches clipped Wilshere late, but advantage was played and he escaped a booking. Indeed, he escaped a ‘second’ one where he caught Walcott on the foot when he had no chance of getting the ball. A couple of penalty shouts, both denied.
Other things like injuries did not leave us alone though. First Vermaelen was replaced at half time with a cut just below the knee. Then, after we had changed Arteta and Wilshere for Flamini and Ozil – nice to have replacements like that? -Walcott picked up a knock, accidental this time, and had to be stretchered off.
This led to one of the photo moments of the game, as he was carried past the Spurs fans who, it is reported, sang some distasteful songs at him while he was being treated, to which, two fingers and a zero reminded them of the score. One for the album without doubt, but the unfortunate stretcher bearers received more missiles than some of their counterpart did at times in WW1.
Very sensitive, and no sense of humour these Spurs fans?
So the final 10 minutes or so we were down to 10 men. But even then the Spurs could not muster a worthwhile shot on goal.
It was expected to be a tough encounter, but with the ease that Spurs were brushed aside, I think we can safely say … …. ARSENAL HAVE CLICKED!
Discuss: Key battles?; Does 4-3-3 always beat 4-4-2?; Overall tactics?; Greater loss – Giroud or Walcott?; MOTM… majority say Rosicky, and I agree.
But remember what the squad has achieved over this short period is nothing short of a miracle, built on sheer hard graft and a collective desire to win, and keep winning.
Written by: Gerry.