Sunday, 18 November 2012

5-2 – déjà vu?

Arsenal secured three points against Spurs in emphatic style yesterday, repeating the 5-2 scoreline from the last time this fixture was played back in February.

In truth, apart from the number of goals, the similarities between the two games were superficial – although, having said that, there was a slight sense of déjà vu as, once again, Arsenal had to fight back after conceding first, and Spurs had a player sent off.

However, last time round the man to see red was Scotty Parker, on 86 minutes – by which time the game was wrapped up, following a remarkable Arsenal comeback sparked by Bacary Sagna. This time the fall guy was the eternal villain, Emmanuel Adebayor, red-carded on 17 minutes for a reckless two-footed lunge on Santi Cazorla, which proved to be a far more decisive factor.

Football changes quickly. A look at the team sheets proves the point –  yesterday, only six of the Arsenal players who started this tie back in February were on the teamsheet, while only three of the Tottenham starting eleven remained.

Adebayor, however, seems to be exactly the same player he's always been – a good goalscorer, but a liability as much as he is a threat. He deserved to go – a good decision from referee Howard Webb – and arguably, from that point on the game turned in the Gunners' favour.

Wenger would probably disagree, but Arsenal had started sluggishly and conceding early at home was surely not part of the gameplan. Per Mertesacker was most culpable for the first goal, caught out of position as Defoe latched on to a looping ball over the top from Jan Vertonghen. Szczesny parried but could not prevent the ball spilling to Adebayor, who followed up to sweep the ball into the Arsenal net in front of the Clock End.

Predictably, he duly celebrated in front of the home fans, to a chorus of boos and abuse. Jeers turned to cheers seven minutes later as he rightly got his marching orders.

Playing against ten men enabled Arsenal to assert control and on 23 minutes Mertesacker redeemed himself with an important first goal for the Gunners, powering in a header from a Walcott cross. It was a superb finish from the German, who is gradually starting to win over many doubting Gooners. Scoring in the North London derby will certainly do him no harm in that regard.

It was our other German, Lukas Podolski, who put the Gunners in front after a neat interchange between Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere. Poldy's slightly scuffed finish bobbled into the net via the heel of another ex-Arsenal man, William Gallas.

Tottenham were now reeling, and Arsenal took advantage for a third time as Howard Webb played a perceptive advantage that enabled Cazorla to stumble, recover, and send in a low cross from the left for Giroud to stroke home.

Spurs trotted out after half time with a new shape, opting to play three at the back. They started with intent, and Arsenal had a few scares, before managing to secure the game with a swift counter. Theo linked up with Podolski on the left and his perfectly-weighted centre was easily converted by Santi Cazorla.

However, the always-dangerous Gareth Bale took advantage of more sloppy Gunners defending, shooting past Szczesny's outstretched palm into the bottom corner as Mertesacker stood off him on the edge of the penalty area.

Wenger showed some tactical acumen when he introduced Andre Santos and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In the ninetieth minute, the Ox broke down the right and fed Walcott in the centre, who scored Arsenal's fifth of the game, capping a good team performance.