Arsenal produced a solid defensive performance to protect an early lead for virtually the whole match and put significant daylight between themselves and their bitter rivals in the league.
It was a day when two away wins saw those billed as title contenders take advantage of Chelsea’s hilarious slip up yesterday to close the gap and simultaneously strengthen their place in the top four. Our nervy, unconvincing win was in stark contrast to Liverpool’s impressive dismantling of a mediocre Man Utd side as the top four distanced themselves from the chasing pack. Spurs are now nine points behind us and Liverpool having played a game more while Man Utd are totally out of it down in 7th — that’s pretty much the same group of players which were cruising to the title this time last year. It’s incredible how badly Moyes has done and the United board really need to admit their mistake and hire a proper manager with pedigree in the summer. I was trying to think of the last time Arsenal had such a bad year and I got as far back as 1994-95, George Graham’s final season.
To the match in question then, and most of the drama came in the first fifteen minutes of a pretty drab game for the neutral. Arsenal got off to the proverbial flyer when Rosicky broke away and tried to play in Oxlade-Chamberlain. The ball rebounded to the Czech rather fortuitously, but there was nothing lucky about the sensational strike which nestled in the top corner after just 72 seconds.
Arsenal retreated into a defensive 4-5-1 formation immediately and looked to hit Tottenham on the counter. Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain were again taking turns to play in the hole behind Giroud while the other sat next to Arteta, but it was noticeable that for the most part they both got behind the ball, leaving only Giroud up top as the midfield and defence worked incredibly hard to keep Spurs away from our area. Hats off to Cazorla and wide man Podolski for putting a shift in — one doesn’t associate their games with tracking back or getting themselves between the ball and our goal, but they were willing grafters along with the rest of the side.
Having said that we were in the ascendancy for the opening quarter of the game as Spurs played a very high defensive line and did it very badly. Rosicky, Podolski and the Ox burst through with the latter having the clearest opportunity (because he was the only one with the necessary pace to take him clear) but tried a woeful dink over Lloris that skidded well wide.
Spurs soon sorted themselves out and started to get into the game, so much so that by the half hour mark they were on top and it looked like Arsenal’s wastefulness may prove costly. It was this time last year that our inept defence was ripped apart by Bale and Lennon, but this season Mertesacker and Koscielny have forged an incredible partnership and they were the two best players on the pitch today, limiting Spurs to a couple of decent chances which Adebayor couldn’t convert.
If the home side were knocking at the door as the half ended, they were bashing at it with both fists after the restart. Almost immediately Szczesny made two shocking errors, flapping at one cross before spilling another straight to the feet of Chadli eight yards out, who only had Koscielny and Mertesacker between him and an empty net. Somehow our magnificent duo erected a red and white wall of flailing limbs to keep the ball out and it was scrambled to safety.
As the half wore on and Arsenal failed to make any impression in the final third, Wenger gave up all pretence of trying to score again and brought on Flamini and Monreal for Podolski and Rosicky. Spurs had plenty of possession as Arsenal sat back but could only produce a couple of presentable chances which Chadli and Adebayor failed to take.
So the Gunners held on for an uninspiring but vital three points. It was a return to the ugly wins of the Autumn which are just fine at the business end of the season, especially against the old enemy, but today’s performance will have to be improved upon if we are to finish higher than our current position of third.
My opinion that Arsenal are great against poor teams, decent against decent teams and poor against great teams hasn’t changed after today. Chelsea and Man City sandwich a game with Swansea now and our slim title chances will be extinguished if we perform like that in those matches. Liverpool look far better equipped to challenge the two favourites as their display at Old Trafford testified. They attacked with flair, pace and confidence and whilst they’re not as solid as us at the back, they have have a kinder fixture list and a more tactically astute manager.
So I think we’ll finish fourth, albeit without the nerve-shredding drama of previous campaigns thanks to today’s fine result. That’s progress of sorts and if we can add an actual trophy to Wenger’s self-awarded fourth place one by lifting the FA Cup, it would be a good season in my book and a real platform on which to spend some proper money in the summer and really challenge next year.