There’s nothing more exciting than writing a match report so packed with smugness you can almost taste the stuff (like cinnamon). I probably won’t go into too much granular detail about the game as most of you saw it, I’ll just pick on key points in what was a very special afternoon.
The Line Up
Initial thoughts were that the line up wasn’t particularly balanced. That wasn’t a negative comment, because I was actually pleased that Arsene had clearly taken a lot of trust from the rotation at the Cardiff game… and not only that he’d taken key learnings. What I’m enjoying about this seasons Arsene is he’s taking intelligent real time decisions, rather than learned ones.
First major play was moving Theo into the middle. He saw that Podolski, a player who easily falls out of favour under Arsene, was hopeless through the middle in the last game, so rather than give him 7 cracks at the whip, he slipped Theo in who made a far bigger impact through the middle in the Cardiff match.
At the back, he played Sagna over Jenkinson because he recognised the wide threat of Spurs was too much for a player prone to switching off. He stuck with the impressive Monreal at left back. Through the middle, he made the big shout of Kos and Vermaelen. Two players who don’t quite fit together as a pairing.
The final positions were occupied by Cazorla, and Gnabry, What could the young German do in a massive game?
Midfield was Jack, Arteta and Rosicky.
I think Spurs made one change from their game at United. Bentalob? Anyway, that immediately got me excited because although we had a weaker side (compared to our strongest side, not Spurs) we’d have the fresher legs. Which as you’ll know, is usually the defining factor in game of two teams with similar quality.
I haven’t had the chance to see it back really, but my thoughts were that we pretty much controlled proceedings the whole way through the first half. I had a feeling it was going to a be a good day for us when Ade went through on goal early on. Koscielny followed him and nicked the ball away when he felt like it.
Theo actually worked really well in the central position. Now, I couldn’t work out whether we’d done some tactical work, or Theo is actually a far more intelligent footballer than we give him credit for, but he seemed to throw the Spurs back line
off key by playing quite deep. Instead of Arsenal going over the top looking for him, Theo would pick the ball up in-between the midfield and defence and run at them… looking for the long shot.
Was he trying to counter the ‘quick off the line’ Lloris?
Who knows, but he’d had a fair few shots by the time the first half had finished.
Gnabry was the star of the first half for me. I can’t remember the last time we had two pace demons in the team. But having both he and Theo in the front line made for a tough night for the Spurs backline. Gnabry is comfortable with the ball at his feet, he has excellent vision for the pass, he’s bold with his shooting and his touch is magical at times. He was at the heart of all our good play. He was running the show from wherever he picked the ball up. His link up play with Theo was superb.
… and he’s only 18.
Another man turning the wheels of business on the pitch was Thomas Rosicky. For the last three seasons he’s been one of our most important players. He’s our assister of the assist man. He drives the team forward and keeps the pace ticking over in the same way Flamini does. He seems to be really enjoying his game at the moment.
Thomas Vermaelen made a really terrible challenge on Dembele, his fellow countryman, that he didn’t apologise for… and he took a yellow. Immediately we could see Mertesacker warming up on the sidelines. We weren’t sure whether it was a tactical sub or he’d strained something… but the fear for us was he’d be targeted in the second half.
We went into half time a goal up courtesy of a great move from Gnabry who slipped Cazorla into space… the Spaniard kept his shot under the bar as he smashed across Lloris to put us one up. A tremendous goal. What a superstar Gnabry was looking!
The second half started with a change, Vermaelen went off for Mertesacker. The last thing the Spurs attack wanted to see.
Gnabry continued to impress, he dropped his shoulder, cut inside his man and threaded Theo in who could only shoot into the side netting.
Our next goal came unexpectedly. Thomas Rosicky chased down a lost cause, Danny Rose (the muppet who scored from about 30 yards against us a few seasons ago), he won it, found himself 30 yards ahead of the pack… he ran, Spurs players closing in on him, before deftly chipping Lloris.
We all lost our minds in the crowd, I nearly went over the row in front. The poor lady next to me was hugged into the melee… total carnage in the stands! If ever a man deserved a goal like that, it was Super Tom Rosicky!
Arsenal made some changes, we brought on Flamini (for Jack?) and Ozil entered for an injured The (he didn’t, I missed that he went off and we had ten men). As Theo went off, the Spurs fans threw coins at him (whilst on a stretcher), the England wideman gestured 2-0 at them… which incited hooligan type launches for pitch. Totally embarrassing. What’s even more pathetic is the press reaction. I think the Daily Mail ran with ‘Theo gesture sours result’… no it didn’t. If fans can collectively sing about a players mum being a slag, then they can man up and deal with friendly banter back (both ways). That goes for all fans. We piss and moan about the sterile atmosphere in grounds these days… ban players for making it lively, we might as well all go home.
Anyway, the second half was more about holding onto the result. Have you ever seen an Arsene team comfortable sitting back an absorbing pressure? The fans were comfortable too…
‘Sherwood is a Gooner’
‘He left cause you’re shiiiiittttttt’
‘We won the league, at White Hart Lane
The game played out, we took the win, and a level of reality has been restored to White Hart Lane. The emergence of a new star, the iconic gesture of Theo Walcott, an easy win and another hat tip to well thought out rotation.
We’ll be seeing more of Gnabry in the second half of the season for sure. He hasn’t let us down since his first game against Schalke. He fits our style, he gives us additional pace. He’s already weighing in with decisive contributions and he’s fresh as a daisy.
Theo Through The Middle
He was brilliant yesterday, but I think we have to look at who we were playing. They allowed Theo to be that good. I don’t think many teams would give him that space normally. However, he showed great intelligence and proved he can play other styles bar hanging off the last man. I just think against Chelsea, if he was playing deep, he’d have a Ramires on him all game. If he was playing off the last man, he’d get bullied and he wouldn’t have the tools to bring other players into the game.
… but for certain games, he’s a very good option.
I pushed the case hard in the summer for him to have a new deal, and he’s delivering again. He’s not going to be able to play three games a week, but what he can do is pull in a performance when asked. Mourninho loves older players because they know their time is limited, so you get the most out of their work rate and the most out of their experience. We can’t keep binning experienced players. He’s been brilliant for the past three seasons. Again, yesterday, he was top notch.
Something I’ve complained about for years is accountability as a team for defending. Though it isn’t always comfortable viewing, we’ve had plenty of games this year where we’ve been able to conserve energy by simply soaking up possession. That’s a massive step change in Arsene Wenger thinking. His approach to defence pre-Steve Bould was that the opposition can’t score without possession. That’s slowly changed to… the opposition can’t score if you’re a well oiled defensive unit as a team.
A lot of people slammed the idea of rotation yesterday based on the 9 day break we now have coming up. This premise is caveman like in it’s logic. Spurs didn’t rest players yesterday, and you could see it. To most, it looked like they couldn’t be bothered, but if you think about their schedule, it was about being ruined. Adebayor was so far off the pace I barely recognised him. Arsenal on the other hand had players like Theo, Rosicky, Gnabry and Monreal who were all chomping at the bit.
Risking long term injury for one game because there’s a break is a stupid premise, especially if the last 3 games have seen the loss of Ramsey, Giroud and Gibbs as well as dips in form for Ozil (and injury, which I think was impact related), along with the dangerous fitness situations of key men like Per Mertesacker and Sagna.
If we’re going to win the league, or a cup, we’re going to have to do it with the full squad. Yesterday was a perfect example of fringe players coming in and slamming their stake in the ground for more playing time. In seasons past, the fringe didn’t have the attitude to beat a strong Spurs side.
Now we’re over the hurdle of Spurs. We have 9 days break. We’re then playing a woeful Villa side. A team you could argue we have beaten before we start.
For me, I’d be resting Per Mertesacker again. I’d be setting loose Gnabry and I’d probably look to rest Sagna. You don’t need your best side for every game as proven by yesterday.
We need to fill some positions over the next month. I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out. People in the game think we have Morata on loan. Berbatov wasn’t in the Fulham side yesterday. There’s talk of taking Manzukic on loan. To be honest, I think this January is a pick and mix month. I’m unsure whether there’s a plan.
I think we need a centre midfielder and a striker. Ideally a right back if we know Sagna is going in the summer. We’ll see though. Wenger is always reluctant to take the leap of faith you often need to when it comes to winning trophies. The money is there, the players will be there… it’s up to us to make it happen.
I read somewhere he wouldn’t be getting a payrise and that his new deal would be heavily incentivised. If this is true, it’s a masterstroke from Ivan Gazidis. It’s a gentle way of reaffirming the roles of each person. Ivan takes care of the business, Arsene takes care of the trophies. Money has consistently been proven as weak motivator for success… but I think in Arsene’s case, it’s a great way of repositioning his role.
Hopefully the Arsenal crowd are shifting opinion when it comes to the ‘library’ comment that follows us around. The Spurs fans were so quiet yesterday. Quite amazing considering there were 5k of them!
I’ve got to know the guys and girls around me this season and it feels like far more of a community than it has done in seasons past.
We sang all game, when the ball was out of play we sang at each other. Red Action had their banners our pregame. The place was buzzing compared to any ground. Fans react to what they see. What we’re seeing is the club match our ambition, we’re seeing a manager shift slowly out of his stubborn ways and we’re seeing players step up and say ‘I want my own song’… this season has been a pleasure.
Long may it continue!
See you in the comments!