Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham: As If It Could Be Any Other Way

une équipe à Londres - Clive Mason

Olivier Giroud brings the three points to the Emirates, but not without some sweat.

Well, that sure was fun!

Arsenal came out for the first half at a million miles an hour, and there was no answer from the other half of North London.  In the first seven minutes, Arsenal had two free kicks in really dangerous areas, and if it weren't for the heroics of Hugo Lloris, Arsenal would be 2-0 up before the clock hit double digits. Santi Cazorla, in particular, looked like he wanted to singlehandedly silence all of Arsenal's critics - he was everywhere, he passed the ball amazingly well, and he was Arsenal's most dangerous player in the opening third of the game.

Overall, Arsenal looked the better team, but not by a whole lot - they did struggle to create a bit, but they also looked like they had an idea of what they wanted to do, unlike Spurs who are just getting to know each other.  Experience counts, and Arsenal's would come in handy.

After about 20 minutes, then, Arsenal looked just about the better team.  Hugo Lloris was singlehandedly keeping them in it; in the 22nd minute, though, the World's Best Defender, Per Mertesacker, executed the world's simplest toe-poke to thwart a Spurs attack at the edge of the area.  I mean, seriously.  Spurs looked pretty threatening on that break, they were moving the ball around well, and Per was standing there like he was waiting for a bus, calmly and without a lot of excess motion.  When the ball got close to him, he stayed in his spot, popped out his toe, and...threat over.

Well, Spurs threat, anyway.  That toe-poke started a move that saw the ball find Rosicky just across the half way line; he picked out Walcott to his right, and Walcott moved the ball up to a dangerous position and threaded a perfect ball in to Olivier Giroud - you remember Giroud?  The guy who people thought couldn't replicate his French form in England? - who scored with his planted foot, not his mobile one (seriously, go back and watch it again - that was an amazingly cool goal) to make it 1-0 Arsenal.

For once, Arsenal didn't take their foot off the gas after a goal - they closed out the first half comfortably, even if not as dominantly as they conducted most of the first half.  The midfield in particular had a rock-solid half; they moved the ball well, and more importantly, they stopped Spurs from coming forward effectively.

The second half was a bit more...not good.  Arsenal came out looking a bit flat, the midfielders who were so in control of the first half didn't quite know what to do in the second.  Spurs couldn't take advantage; they never looked particularly threatening, even if Arsenal didn't either.

Then, all of a sudden, in about the 70th minute, Spurs decided they'd stop drooling on themselves and start playing.  Unfortunately, Etienne Capoue was stretchered off with what looked to be a serious injury (he was being given oxygen as they were stretchering him off) at about this time, which gave both teams a chance to pause and regroup.  And then, after the restart, things got hairy fast.  I don't keep actual stats, but for the last 20-25 minutes or so it seemed like the entire game was being played not just in the Arsenal half, but in the Arsenal penalty area; Spurs laid some pretty serious siege to the Arsenal goal for the last third of the game.

Spurs were playing with a lot more purpose, but not a lot of point, if that makes sense - for all their supposed midfield maestro-ness and attacking prowess, their game plan seemed to be "Let's pump the ball into the six yard box and then OH MY GOD WHAT DO WE DO NOW'.  Fortunately for them, Arsenal's second-half defending was also of the "OH MY GOD WHAT DO WE DO NOW" variety; there was a lot of hoof-and-hope going on, and the hope wasn't working all that well.

But this is where experience pays off - for all that hoof-and-hope, Arsenal never panicked, even in an increasingly focused Spurs attack.  The last 10 minutes of this game were as tense as any Arsenal game has been in a year or so; I was convinced Spurs would score, and relieved every time Arsenal cleared the ball, even if it only cleared to further out in Arsenal's half.

Five minutes of extremely nervy injury time later, Arsenal have all three points from the first NLD of the season, and with very little consequence injury-wise for once; Jack Wilshere had to leave, but it was just stomach cramps, so fortunately it looks like Arsenal went through a week unscathed for once.

So, all is right with the world.  Tottenham spend £100 million and lose; Arsenal have spent nothing and yet still looked the better team for most of this match.  Three points, Arsene Wenger's 19th win in 42 North London derbies.yet another reminder of who the best team in North London is.

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