Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

We are still in dreamland. The emphatic win over the north London rivals after the incredible comeback should deserve at least a three-day celebration, especially when it was watched somewhere special. This game was selected as the centrepiece of this year's Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club Benidorm trip. Needless to say, the trip was worthwhile. The same weekend last year, we were there to witness Arsenal winning their first trophy in 6 years, but it wasn't to be. What a difference the results made to our trips! The victory certainly made our weekend. We even gave Tottenham the two-goal lead to make our win even sweeter. This game will be remembered by all the Arsenal fans for years to come, with the vivid memory of where they were at the time.

We went into this game as an underdog after the back-to-back defeats, which led to our exits from the two major competition (although there is still a very slim chance left in the Champions League). Even optimistic Arsenal fans, like me, wouldn't have expected such an emphatic scoreline. When I saw Chelsea beating Bolton 3-0 on the previous day and overtaking us temporarily, I thought we might be able to grab a win against Tottenham, but not by a goal margin that can match Chelsea's goal difference. I was just hoping the north London derby would be a good game of football and I wasn't disappointed.

The team's performance on the day responded to many criticisms; some of them are relating to their lacklustre display for the last couple of weeks, some arising from more persistent problems over the recent seasons.

(1) Mental strength: Arsenal could have capitulated after conceding the two unfortunate goals so early in the game, but instead they continued their attack. With Rosicky's header saved by Freidle and RVP's effort deflected unfavourably for us (in contrast to Tottenham's first goal), the team could have succumbed to the thoughts that it was just not their day. I thought earlier this season this crop of the players had more mental strength than last season, which was proved by the number of comebacks they have made this season. In the same fixture last season, we surrendered the 2-0 lead at half time to lose 3-2.

(2) Determination to win: Arsenal Wenger highly praised his side's determination not to lose. Especially, our midfield was always first to the 50-50 ball, showing their strong will to win the game.

(3) Urgency: when the two sides met earlier this season at White Hart Lane, Arsenal could have won the game, if they could sustain the pressure after they equalised through Ramsey's goal. Urgency was also something that lacked in our two latest defeats. Pulling two goals back within 3 minutes spoke the volumes for the urgency and intensity. It was absolutely imperative to make it level at half time.

(4) Quality of the players: this was a big doubt over the last couple of weeks (or this season after we lost key players). Our players showed that they have enough quality to outplay and beat comprehensively the good side who are currently third in the League and thought to be playing the best football in England at the moment.

(5) Slow attacking: Arsenal's attacking has come under criticism, particularly lately, for the lack of speed and its distinctive style of passing around. Our fifth goal reminded us of the good old days when Arsenal were feared for their quick counter-attack from deep on the pitch.

(6) Cohesion: Some have claimed that Arsenal were playing three different teams against Sunderland in the FA Cup, with no cohesion among the three departments. In this game, they defended as a unit, while their attacking was seamless, with the both full-backs overlapping with the wingers and the midfielders running from the box to box.

One of the criticisms Arsenal still have to answer is how they can break through the opponents' stubborn defence. Tottenham are an open team and so were Chelsea on the day when we beat them 5-3. We seem to play better against the bigger clubs who try to play their football, whereas the mid-table clubs tend to sit back and try to attack on the break with their sights for a draw or a lucky win. The next opponents, Liverpool, are expected to come out to play, especially in front of the home crowd. Hopefully, Arsenal will take their game to Anfield in the similar style to this weekend.

Arsene Wenger pointed out after this match that the condition of the pitch played a big role in the previous two defeats (Thank God, we have already played Wigan away this season), but the lack of a plan B is another problem. Even when we cannot play our style of football, we have to get results we want in order to finish in the top four.

One win does not mean that all the problems have been solved. However, after the weekend's result, finishing above Tottenham and securing a top-four spot have started looking more achievable.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 8
Tottenham's first goal was unlucky as he would probably have had it covered, had it not been for that wicked deflection. We don't blame him for conceding a penalty, which should have never been a penalty. Made some good saves.

Sagna: 9
Outstanding both defensively and offensively. He was energetic going forward, while he kept Bale quiet most of the afternoon. Scored his first goal of the season with a bullet header, setting up a goal for Rosicky after a quick one-two with him.

Koscielny: 7
Saha shouldn't have been allowed that much time and space when he netted Tottenham's first goal via deflection. After that, he did fine.

Vermaelen: 7
The two centre-backs may be blamed for Arsenal's shaky start, but after we had taken control of the game through relentless attacking, they looked solid.

Gibbs: 7
Went forward well. Did OK.

Rosicky: 9
His best performance since his return from injury a couple of years ago. Scored his first goal in two years deservedly. He showed that he still have a lot to offer for the team. The Man of the Match for me.

Arteta: 8
Worked hard as usual. Set up a goal for Sagna with a perfect cross.

Song: 8
Battled hard as usual. Made another killer pass to set up a goal for Walcott.

Walcott: 8
Used his pace very well and kept his cool in the finishing. Scored two great goals. Glad he was not subbed at half time. He can offer a defferent dimension in our attacking, directness, which his team-mates cannot. Also, he can be very effective, when RVP is tightly marked and surrounded by defenders. He showed what he could do. What he needs now is consistency.

Benayoun: 8
His inclusion in the starting XI came as a bit of surprise. In the mid-week reserve game, he pulled the strings for Arsenal's attacking and also scored a goal for himself. Probably his solidness in defence compared with Gervinho earned his place in the starting XI. He didn't disappoint the boss. A great, gutsy performance from him.

van Persie: 9
He led the team to the victory as captain with great determination. He knew what this game meant to the fans and was totally committed to making us proud. His goal was the work of art.

Jenkinson: 7
75th-minute substitution for Gibbs. The north London derby was his first game with the first-team in more than three months. As a life-long Arsenal supporter, he must have enjoyed the occasion. Good defending.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Came off the bench in the 81st minute to replace Walcott. Little time to make an impact.

Gervinho: 6
Came on to replace Benayoun in the 88th minute. 


Mike Dean: 4
Most of the media seem to agree with us on the view that the penalty decision was wrongly given. A yellow card shown to Koscielny was harsh as he had no option. It was as accidental as Scott Parker's handball in the area, which he got away with. I wasn't surprised when I heard the stat that Arsenal had never won the last 10 games Mike Dean was referee prior to this match. Incidentally, the ref's alleged celebration of Tottenham's first goal is going viral at the moment. We won this game, but not thanks to Mr Dean. We beat Tottenham with five superb goals.

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