Arsenal secured north London bragging rights and a place in the FA Cup fourth round with an ultimately comfortable victory over Tottenham this evening, but it was not without cost. The Premier League leaders, already beset by a growing injury list, had Theo Walcott taken off on a stretcher and also had to withdraw Thomas Vermaelen.
Since Walcott was only playing centre-forward as Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bentdner were injured, a plunge into the transfer market by Arsène Wenger seems increasingly likely.
A high-tempo derby that showed Tim Sherwood the scale of the task he faces as he tries to overhaul Spurs’ neighbours was won by goals in the 32nd and 62nd minutes by Santi Cazorla and, after a howler by Danny Rose, Tomas Rosicky.
Wenger has now seen off so many Tottenham managers he is facing ones who used to be playing against his Arsenal team. Few, though have been as adventurous as Sherwood, who deployed twin strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado in an attack-minded formation. And why not attack, given this team (aside from Nabil Bentaleb, who made a full debut) won at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day?
Sherwood’s strong selection was no surprise. Tottenham are engaged in a four-way fight for the last Champions’ League spot, but they are not favoured to win it, and the blame for failure will lie with his predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas. There is also the Europa League, but Sherwood is English, and of a generation to whom the FA Cup mattered. He knew, too, that Spurs have a rich relationship with the competition and winning it would cement his place in the supporters’ affections.
Wenger will have been more ambivalent about the competition; he needs a trophy, but with Arsenal top of the Premier League would much preferred to have fielded an ersatz side. The opposition’s identity made that impossible, and though he made four changes from the side that began Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat of Cardiff City, only Lukasz Fabianski and Serge Gnabry were infrequent members of the first team.
Tottenham began the brighter, taking the game to Arsenal, and should have led after eight minutes. Christian Eriksen, one of those brought in from the cold by Sherwood, seized on an error by Vermaelen and advanced on Fabianski, but the Pole blocked the Dane’s shot with his legs.
The drawback with Tottenham’s intent was that it played to Arsenal’s counterattacking strength, and Walcott twice broke behind their back four. He shot early after 11 minutes, bringing a decent save at full stretch from Hugo Lloris, then watched another effort deflect agonisingly over the bar. From the corner Gnabry also sent a shot skimming above the net.
Tottenham’s retorts were initially directed towards Vermaelen, no longer an imperious presence. Though he expertly dispossessed Aaron Lennon as the speedster threatened to fly by, a tackle on Moussa Dembélé was poorly timed. But Eriksen’s free-kick was wayward and Arsenal resumed thir control.
After Rosicky had shot over, Walcott ought to have scored when released by Cazorla, but a poor first touch narrowed his angle and Lloris saved his shot. It seemed the England man was fluffling his audition for a more prolonged run in his desired centre-forward role, but then came a smart bit of forward play. Gnabry picked up the ball between the lines and, with Walcott’s intelligent angled run taking defenders away, was able to find Cazorla in space on the left. The Spaniard’s finish was clinical.
With that goal the pace eased. Totteham were wary of conceding a second, Arsenal had no need to push hard for one. Walcott shot over and Soldado wide, but the main interest was a simmering feud between Jack Wilshere and Dembélé that will have ensured Mark Clattenburg’s mind did not drift back to Southampton’s ill-judged cricism of him.
Spurs should have levelled early in the second period but, in a moment Arsenal fans enjoyed almost as much as their goals, Adebayor mis-kicked attempting a close-range volley with the goal at his mercy.
As they pressed, Arsenal found more space, and Walcott rounded Lloris on the hour only to find the angle too tight.
Then came Rose’s nightmare. Dawdling in possession on the halfway line, the left-back was robbed by Rosicky, who was just quick enough to stay clear of Kyle Walker before chipping over Lloris.
Though Arsenal later went down to 10 men after Walcott was carried off with what appeared an ankle injury after falling awkwardly while tackling Rose, the game was beyond Spurs.
Twenty-four hours after Southampton's demand that Mark Clattenburg does not officiate their matches after they felt he insulted Adam Lallana at Everton last week – he is alleged to have told him, “you're very different now since you played for England” – the referee was back on duty at the Emirates. How did he do?
A good match for Clattenburg in that both sets of supporters were far more interested in taunting each other than in abusing the referee. Aside from wails of complaint about decisions that went against their team Clattenburg was ignored.
Tim Sherwood was furious when Clattenburg waved play on after Aaron Lennon went down under a challenge from Thomas Vermaelen, but television pictures proved the Belgian made a good tackle. He also correctly played on after the ball bounced up to strike Santi Cazorla in the area and when Kyle Walker took an exaggerated tumble in the box.
There was no sign of his perceived “chumminess” with players. His most active intervention was to defuse a simmering feud between Jack Wilshere and Mousa Dembélé, which he did like a schoolteacher breaking up a playground argument.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen (Mertesacker, h-t), Monreal; Wilshere, Arteta (Özil, 75); Rosicky, Gnabry, Walcott, Cazorla.
Tottenham (4-4-2): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose; Lennon, Bentaleb, Dembélé, Eriksen; Soldad, Adebayor.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Walcott (Arsenal)
Match rating: 7/10