Monday, January 6, 2014

Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0 (FA Cup 3rd Round)

It may have been a comfortable win in the end, but clashes with north London rivals are always very tense affairs for the Gooners.

Prior to the game, Wenger's intent for this cup tie was clear. He stated he would treat it as one of the league games. With the next game as far as 9 days away against a struggling Aston Villa side, there was no reason why the Frenchman should rotate largely. From his 17-year experience in the job, the boss knew exactly what was at stake when it came to a north London derby. He said that he would only rest those players who were on the verge of getting injured. The teamsheet revealed that there were four changes from the side that started in a 2-0 win over Cardiff. Fabianski came in for Szczesny, who dropped out of the squad, with Viviano on the bench. The club captain, Thomas Vermaelen replaced Per Mertesacker, who started from the bench. Rosicky came in for Flamini, who was also dropped to the bench. Some newspapers reported that Gedion Zelalem could make a debut (he had a great preseason and is a bright prospect, but we didn't think he would be ready for such a big match yet), but it was another German teenager who got the nod. Serge Gnabry was slotted into the right wing. In turn, Theo Walcott took over the centre-forward role from Lukas Podolski, who was dropped to the bench. Nacho Monreal kept his place as Kieran Gibbs continued his recovery from a calf strain. Olivier Giroud didn't even make the bench after falling ill despite recovering from an ankle problem. Bendtner started a period on the treatment table after suffering an ankle sprain, which will keep him sidelined for up to a month, according to the boss.

Although Tottenham were on a decent run of form, especially fresh from a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, Arsenal went into the game, generally considered as favourite. Many pundits feared for the Spurs that Arsenal's 5-men midfield would overrun them in  the middle of the park, if Tim Sherwood stuck to his 4-4-2 system, which had proved successful since his taking office. And it turned out just as they predicted. The new Tottenham coach withdrew one of his frontmen, Soldado, and reinforced their midfield by introducing Chadli in the 63rd minute. After the match, Sherwood was still defending his tactics, insisting that the substitution was a forced one as a result of injury to the Spanish striker. Not only did Wenger's side win the game, but the Frenchman also came out on top in the tactical battle. The media attributed the victory to his experience. Also, Rosicky praised the team's tactical discipline in his post-match interview. The team executed Wenger's tactics very well.

We think Mark Clattenburg did a decent job this evening. The referee has attracted the newspaper headlines recently, but his decisions were consistent and he let the game flow, although he may have some post-match reporting to do later on. We don't know how Walcott's hand gesture could put him trouble. It was neither offensive nor abusive (he was generous enough to inform Tottenham fans of the scoreline in case they might have missed it). He was not even aggressive towards them as he was smiling, carried on a stretcher. It is not accurate to say that the gesture was provocative as Tottenham fans had started throwing coins before he made the gesture, according to the reports. Even Tim Sherwood said that it could be a banter. After all, it was just another entertaining episode to be added to a perfect evening. Theo made a lot fans among the Arsenal supporters. On the other hand, Bentaleb's stamping on Monreal's arm and Dembele's clash with Wilshere may trigger the FA investigations. Tottenham fan's conducts will certainly need to be looked into.

The game clearly demonstrated Arsenal's superiority in all department. Our centre-backs kept the in-form Adebayor quiet throughout the game. After Walcott was stretchered off, we were reduced to 10 men with 9 minutes to go, but the players didn't panic and held firm. We even nearly got a third goal through Ozil's fine low cross-shot, which forced a fine save from Lloris. It was an accomplished team display all over the pitch.

Any win is great against Tottenham, but totally outplaying them is extremely satisfying. Now the busy festive period is over. After an Arsenal-free weekend, we have a clash with Aston Villa on Monday night. 

Players rating

Fabianski: 7
With Tottenham registering only 3 shots on target, there was little to do, but deflected Eriksen's shot off the line to rescue his side from early threat. His distribution was a little suspect at times, but generally he did OK.

Sagna: 7
Always on the right flank to help when needed.

Koscielny: 8
Great defensive performance with pace.

Vermaelen: 7

Solid. Replaced by Mertesacker at half time due to a kick on the knee (looked like a cut, hopefully, he will recover in no time.)

Monreal: 8
Another good performance from the deputy left-back. Now Wenger must be reconsidering the pecking order. We thought he would struggle against pacy wide players in Lennon and Walker, but he coped well and even posed a threat going forward.

Arteta: 7
Protected the back four well from Tottenham's counter-attack, mopping up loose balls in front of them. Good positioning. Replaced by Ozil in the 75th minute.

Wilshere: 7
Good vision.

Cazorla: 8

Budweiser Man of the Match (selected by Andy Townsend). Scored his second goal of the season via a powerful drive. Another energetic performance. Hopefully, he will hit form as he gets a run of games under belt.

Rosicky: 8

Another contender for Man of the Match. He has been pressing the opponents' defenders hard when he did not have the ball and efforts were paid off handsomely in this game. He robbed Rose of possession and made a spectacular 40-yard run to finish it with a chipped effort past Lloris. He must have had an idea as to how to finish it, which was executed brilliantly. Classy play from a classy player.

Gnabry: 8's Man of the Match. The 18-year-old's performance was sensational. He set up Santi's opener by driving forward across the area before feeding Cazorla a perfectly weighed pass. Cazorla did not even need to have a touch. He did some good defensive work as well. Good to see a youngster coming through a big match like this with a stellar performance. He should be given more playing time. 

Walcott: 8

He played well in the central striking role, always occupying two defenders. He was a constant threat to Tottenham's slow centre-backs. On the other hand, he missed a few chances with poor finishing. He must start scoring when one on one with the keeper, he's missed a few this season. Wenger is not sure whether the Englishman suffered a stretched ligament or just a kick. Keep fingers crossed that it's not serious. Giroud should be fit for the next game against Aston Villa. Meanwhile, Gnabry proved himself as a competent right winger.



Mertesacker: 7
Replaced the injured Vermaelen at half time. Solid.

Flamini: 7
71st-minute-substitute for Jack Wilshere to shore up the defence.

Ozil: 6
75th-minute substitute for Arteta. A strange substitution. Maybe to restore the defence-attack balance after Flamini's introduction, but it looked an unnecessary substitution. It may be a hindsight, but Wenger could have used it when Walcott was stretchered off. Glad to see him fully recover from his shoulder injury, but some of his passes were wayward and as a result he had to foul, giving away a free-kick in the dangerous area. On the other hand, he nearly scored a goal in latter stages.

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