In the North London derby, ludicrous, fantastical notions of ‘playing the Tottenham way’ or ‘Wengerball’ essentially go out the window as simply securing a victory is all that matters. Nothing reinforced that fact more than the latest tête-à-tête between Arsenal and Spurs. Arsenal took an earlier lead but failed to capitalise, spent much of the game on the back foot and ultimately, looked second best. However, for all their possession and positive approach, our rivals could not find a way through and still found themselves on the receiving end of defeat. While there may be a worry or two over the way the team played and struggled to get a proper foothold on the game, the end result was the only thing that mattered. It may well have been one of the least enjoyable matches to watch as a supporter, but the end result and the unconfined joy at the final whistle made it all worthwhile. When it comes to beating the old enemy, it doesn’t matter how you do it, it just matters that you do.
A Joy-Arse Occasion
During those moments of joy at the final whistle, it was heartening to see that a derby win means as much to the players as it does the fans. Cheesy as it was, Szczesny’s “selfie” and Podolski burying himself in and among the fans shows not only their happiness in beating ‘them’ but also a togetherness and team spirit that some might argue the team has liked in recent years. Players are often accused of not caring or not understanding the importance of matches against rivals so to see them celebrating like you or I would was immensely pleasing.
A Ros by any other name
The only goal came courtesy of Thomas Rosicky whose opening minute piledriver will undoubtedly take it’s place alongside the great goals that has graced this future down the years. Coming so early in the game, it provided Arsenal with both something to protect and a platform to build on. As it turned out, it was more the former than the latter but when all was said and done, Rosicky’s thunderbolt gave Arsenal the three points and that is all history will remember. A spectacular goal to settle any game let alone a derby.
It’s easy to forget that our Czech mate was very much considered one the many who fell into the category of ‘Deadwood’ some years back. After his lengthy injury lay-offs, nobody expected him to ever come back to play any significant role in the team. Proving most us wrong, Rosicky, both due to ability and experience is one of the most important players in the squad and could arguably be an outside shout for one of Arsenal’s players of the season.
This was Arsenal’s first win at White Hart Lane since 2007 and Arsenal’s first ‘double’ over Tottenham since that very season. Under Arsene Wenger, the approach when facing our nearby neighbours has always been an expansive one that has proven just as likely to yield a 5-2 win as it has a 4-4 draw. This season however, as with the tactical approach to most games, the manager seemingly placed far more emphasis of keeping things tight and trying to deploy a more counter-attacking strategy. Arsenal were seemingly happy to cede possession in the hope of hitting Sherwood’s team on the break and in the end, despite the obvious hiccups, it did achieve the desired result. Having played similarly in the two previous games against Tottenham this season and having a grand total three wins to show for it, the pragmatic approach has certainly worked to Arsenal’s advantage.
Per for the course
Arsenal’s success with this more conservative approach on this occasion can once again be put down to the now formidable partnership between Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny whose incredible double act was able to absorb the Tottenham pressure and restrict the number of clear cut opportunities they were able to create. Putting a number of vital tackles, blocks and clearing headers, the two were relatively comfortable and seemingly lifted the players around who all battled hard to preserve what was a slender lead. If they two of them have a better game together, I very much look forward to seeing it.
After such a solid rear-guard performance, it would be difficult to nit-pick but going forward, Arsenal were somewhat disappointing. Wasting possession, giving the ball away and making generally poor decisions on the all too infrequent occasions when they had chances to push on. There was no passing game to speak of and Tottenham were certainly allowed far too much time in our own half of the pitch. With the exception of Rosicky, Arsenal’s midfield was far too sloppy at times and did their defensive teammates few favours with the pressure they seemed to invite. If they had been on their game, the end result might have actually been more comfortable.
After Rosicky’s opener, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was soon presented with a glorious chance on the break to double the advantage but dragged an ill-advised attempted chip well wide of the post. Football is all about margins. If Ox buries that chance and we are 2-0 up after 15 minutes then I have no doubt in my mind that we end up running riot and hitting them for 4 or 5 such would have been the drop in their confidence (We’ve seen it from them already this season). Instead, they were still in the game and put more of a battling performance than they otherwise would have. Thankfully, we were able to ride it out.
No two ways about it, this was an ugly win; a performance actually not too far off that at Stoke a few weeks back with the only real difference being the end result. Would it be ungrateful to want ‘better’ displays in our remaining games? Probably but as that Stoke game showed, they won’t always get away with not being 100%. As we enter the final quarter of the season, Arsenal are still in contention for two major honours and you have to hope/expect the players realise there is room for improvement if they are to close in on the top of the table and win those two crucial FA Cup matches. At the so-called business end of the campaign, the margin for error becomes smaller and smaller and while this result was sweet, chances of overall success increase by upping our collective gears. Something to ponder but in the meantime, I guess we can just bask in the glory of another victory over our friends from up the road.