Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal
Arsenal pulled themselves right back into the title race yesterday with a hard fought 1-0 victory over arch rivals Tottenham. It was the third time the two teams have met this season; the third time the Gunners have emerged victorious and the third time that Tottenham’s £110 million summer spending spree has failed to reap even a single goal against Arsene Wenger’s men.
Playing away at White Hart Lane has always been a tough game for Arsenal, but on this occasion the pressure was even greater than normal, given the fact that Chelsea had lost to Aston Villa on Saturday, while Liverpool and Manchester City had both won. In such circumstances, only a win would do and therefore the Gunners had to get off to a good start.
In fact, they couldn’t have got off to a better start, taking the lead with only 72 seconds played. Tottenham lost possession deep in the Arsenal half, and with Danny Rose caught up field, provided the Gunners with an opportunity to launch an early counter attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain, deployed once again in the centre of the pitch, played the ball forward to Rosicky on the right flank before continuing his run forward. The Czech international played a pass into Oxlade-Chamberlain’s path, but although the Englishman couldn’t control the pass, the ball fell to Rosicky on the edge of the area, who unleashed an unstoppable shot right into the top corner of the net.
It was a truly sensational start to the game and stunned White Hart Lane into silence. Arsenal were now in a perfect position to sit back, invite Tottenham onto them and hit them on the break. It nearly paid off shortly after the opening goal as the Gunners could and should have doubled their lead. Tottenham were once again caught high up the pitch, the ball was played into Oxlade-Chamberlain, who skipped past the feeble challenge of Bentaleb on the halfway line and raced towards goal. However as Lloris came out to meet him, Oxlade-Chamberlain decided to attempt to clip the ball over the Frenchman, but got it all wrong and his effort sailed harmlessly wide of goal. With Podolski having made a good run in support of the attack, in hindsight, the better option would have been to lay the ball square for the German to fire home into an empty net.
From this point on, the Gunners really began to struggle to get out of their own half, as the midfield sat deeper and deeper and with no one making forward runs to support Giroud, the Frenchman became an isolated figure up front, unable to hold onto the ball at all. As a result, Tottenham enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and really began to press Arsenal back, but for all their possession, didn’t once force Szczesny into a save. The closest they came to restoring parity in the first half was from an Andros Townsend cross, which Mertesacker attempted to clear, the ball hitting Adebayor and flying just past the back post.
Having managed to see out the first period of the game under great pressure, the Arsenal faithful would have expected Wenger to advise his team not to defend so deep in the second half. If they were able to step up slightly, then the Gunners would not have found it so difficult to get up the pitch. However, the second period started in similar fashion to how the first half had ended, with Tottenham on the front foot., Szczesny almost undid all of Arsenal’s solid defensive work as he nearly gifted the home side a way back into the game, fumbling two crosses from Kyle Nauthton in quick succession. On both occasions, the ball fell to the feet of Chadli, but fortunately, the Belgian was thwarted first by Sagna’s challenge and then by Koscielny’s block, with the goal at his mercy.
As Arsenal struggled to maintain possession, it seemed only a matter of time before Tottenham would breach the Gunners resolute defence and Townsend’s low cross, which Chadli couldn’t turn in, appeared to suggest the hosts were getting closer and closer. But after this initial flurry of chances, Arsenal’s defence began to come out on top once again, winning aerial challenges time and time again and largely nullifying the Tottenham attack with consummate ease. The introduction of Flamini from the bench helped shore things up in front of the defence and Monreal’s presence on the left flank helped stem Tottenham’s attacks from this side of the pitch.
In fact, for all their possession, the home side really didn’t create much, ending the game with a feeble two attempts on target and it was actually Arsenal who had the better chances. With eleven minutes to go, Mertesacker forced Lloris into a fine low save, working the goalkeeper far more than Tottenham had Szczesny. At the final whistle, the Gunners could look back on a hard fought and vital victory, which brings them to within four points of Cheslea with a game in hand. Given that the Gunners play at Stamford Bridge next Saturday, Arsene Wenger’s side maybe right back in the title race, having seemingly thrown it all away with their recent defeat away to Stoke.
This wasn’t a fine performance by any stretch of the imagination and the Gunners will have to improve significantly if they are to get anything from the game against Chelsea. Yet it cannot be denied that such a victory would have been beyond Arsenal a few seasons ago and therefore goes to show that the team has improved significantly over the past two years. There are nine league games left to play and the Gunners must now give their all in every single one of those matches. Injuries have unfortunately robbed them of some of their most potent attacking players, but up till now Arsene Wenger’s men have found great resolve to remain within touching distance of the top teams. This is where the title will now be won and lost; do Arsenal have the stomach for the fight?