A frenetic day at the Emirates Stadium saw goals aplenty as Arsenal secured their first Premier League win of the month against the old enemy on a splendid Saturday lunchtime kick-off. The Gunners put out a strong lineup in the standard 4-2-3-1 to take on those other North Londoners. Wojciech Szczesny found himself back in the starting lineup, relegating Vito Mannone to the bench whilst Jack Wilshere continued his much lauded return to the squad alongside Mikel Arteta in the holding positions.
Szczesny had an uninspiring return to the squad and will need to put in performances of a much higher calibre. The first goal could have been prevented if Szczesny had shown better shotstopping, at least making an attempt to punch it out of the way of the onrushing Adebayor. His overly calm passing and clearances at the back had me biting my fingernails at times as the Totteringham players beared down on the young Polish goalkeeper. I do feel he needs to develop his sense of urgency as teams that press us at the back to force mistakes will end up capitalising on this more and more over his career if he fails to do so.
Spurs put out a lineup featuring a whole host of misfits but the two to stand out were rather obvious Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas. The former made today about himself in all the right and wrong ways.
Totteringham took an early lead through the aforementioned Adebayor after a patch of shoddy defending from the Gunners. Marked by Mertesacker, Jermain Defoe peeled away from the German international to latch onto a long ball from Jan Vertonghen. Played onside by Laurent Koscielny and with numbers in support, Defoe was able to force a poor one handed save from Szczesny and Adebayor was able to capitalise on the goalkeeping error with a tap in.
Arsenal appeared unable to deal with the pressure early on as Totteringham created a number of early attempts on goal. With no shots on goal in the first fifteeen minutes, it looked like it was going to be a long day at Ashburton Grove until Adebayor became the focus of the big turning point of the game, a rash lunge, studs up on Santi Cazorla. An instant red card any day of the week, let alone in the North London derby.
Cazorla was far and away the man of the match, the fluid nature of Arsenal’s formation in full display through him as he found himself sparking attacks all over the park. A thirty first minute shot by the little Spaniard nearly saw a goal in the same class as that of Liam Brady’s in the North London Derby of 1978. He eventually bagged a well deserved goal thanks to the workmanship of Lukas Podolski down the left wing to swing a decent ball in, with the finish from Cazorla just as clinical.
Six minutes later and we had the equaliser, Per Mertesacker going from zero to hero with his first goal for the Arsenal thanks to an enterprising effort down the right by Theo Walcott. Walcott had an outstanding day on the wing, and when brought into the centre showed the clinical finishing feet of another famous number fourteen with Arsenal’s fifth and final of the game.
With the Adebayor red card nullifying the attacking threat of the Totteringham formation, André Villas-Boas took a gamble by substituting Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker, replacing them with Michael Dawson and Clint Dempsey. The new look Spurs formation saw them change to a 3-5-1 formation from the 4-4-2 in which they lined up at the beginning of the game, with Defoe as the lone striker.
Not only did we not get a single shot attempt in the first 15 minutes, we were outmuscled all over the pitch and outplayed in midfield until Adebayor was sent off. His dismissal definitely turned the tide in our favour, and Villas-Boas’ rookie mistake of wanting to match our offensive shape allowed us to tear them apart. A more experienced manager would have approached Arsenal the way you should: stay disciplined, let us pass the ball around and go for the counter.
The gamble paid off for a time, patches of decent play saw Totteringham recoup one goal in the second half through some fine individual play by Gareth Bale, but the formations defensive deficiency ultimately allowed Arsenal to exploit the flanks on the counter attack, once down the left with Cazorla’s goal thanks to a good run by Podolski and once down the right with a goal for Walcott, tested successfully in the centre as he was fed the ball by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Theo Walcott’s contract dispute will continue to drag on through the season, and performances like this show just how crucial he’s becoming to our efforts, with brilliant work on the wing and a clinical finish when moved into the middle of the park. A performance like this will only add to the calls to get his contract sorted out as soon as possible to avoid losing another key player next summer.
Ultimately, Villas-Boas may have been better off just opting to shut up shop, as Totteringham were incapable of crafting enough chances to put up with the Arsenal onslaught. Undoubtedly Adebayor’s red carding created the space to make this happen at the back, the question is whether Arsenal are capable of doing this more regularly, we can’t rely on a player doing something that reckless in every game, more needs to be done to break down a bank of four at the back against top quality opposition. Despite what Twitch Redknapp may have you believe on Match of the Day, this Sp*rs side is not stronger than Arsenal’s by any means.
When capable of exploting the opposition defense as seen today the results are clear, Walcott, Podolski and Cazorla all had a single goal and assist to their credit today. Spreading the effort around the squad, as it rightly should be, lessens the need for a player like Robin Van Persie who we were forced to rely on individually for much of last season.
So with the Lilywhites sent back home with their tails between their legs, it’s up to this Arsenal team to grab the season by the scruff of the neck and show consistency in winning cruicial games like these. It remains to be seen however if we’ll recoup enough points to maintain any sort of championship challenge, as I believe that the league is well out of our grasp. However, I have been wrong before, we shall have to see whether the squad has the character to do what is necessary.