Tottenham 0 Arsenal 1 match report: Tomas Rosicky rocket sees Arsenal open up gap from Spurs in Premier League table
Czech midfielder scored the only goal of the game in the second minute to cement the Gunners' place in the top four
white hart lane
Monday 17 March 2014
After two seasons of one-point proximity between the two north London clubs, this year the gap in the Premier League is back. Arsenal’s win here on Sunday afternoon leaves them nine points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, having played one game fewer, and with almost no prospect whatsoever of Spurs supremacy – or a top-four finish – this season.
Those last two years, when Arsenal beat Spurs by one position and one point into Champions League qualification, looked far away on Sunday. So did the corresponding fixture one year ago when Spurs won 2-1 and Andre Villas-Boas, at the high-point of his tenure and seven points clear of his rivals, condemned Arsenal’s “negative spiral”.
Since then the two teams have spiralled in different directions entirely. Tottenham have lost their best player – Gareth Bale – and their coach, and satisfactorily replaced neither. The sense of direction and purpose at White Hart Lane has dissipated to the extent that there were a smattering of “Levy Out” protesters outside the ground before kick-off.
Spurs did not play especially poorly – they have certainly performed far worse than this recently, not least in defeats to Norwich City and Benfica – but there was a pervasive sense of no real plan, with the ball moving forward almost too quickly, and a series of scrambled half-chances ultimately less helpful than anything purposefully built.
Kieran Gibbs (left) competes with Emmanuel Adebayor (GETTY) Arsenal were not much better, but they scored a brilliant goal after 72 seconds and that certainly made everything else easier. Of course, they cannot play the type of football many would hope for when Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are all injured. Yet they did show the sort of nerve, focus and resilience that they have only really re-discovered in the last 12 months, since that nadir afternoon here and Villas-Boas’ subsequent gloat. Those are some of the characteristics, now, that Tottenham need urgently.
Spurs’ ferocious approach ultimately did not work but it helped to create the sort of game that could only be a derby in the Premier League. The tempo was relentless; the whole first half felt like a first five minutes, and the second half was not exactly sluggish either. The quality was good but not excellent, with enough poor defending and finishing to keep everybody tense. It was a surprise that no one was sent off and one or two might have been. .
What decided the game was that as desperate as Spurs were to win – and no one could accuse these players of not trying on Tim Sherwood’s behalf – they did not have the nous, while Arsenal did. Tottenham did not even have enough time to be warned. They were so dangerously assertive from the start, with the back four pushing far too far up the pitch, that Arsenal punished them immediately.
Tomas Rosicky did not start the game in the middle but high and wide on the right, and in the first minute he burst forward into space. He turned down the chance to shoot, passing inside to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was tackled. The ball rolled back towards Rosicky, on the corner of the penalty area. Without considering any alternative, he struck it with the outside of his right boot so purely that it flew into the far top corner of the goal.
Arsene Wenger (left) and Tim Sherwood on the touchline (GETTY) That dangerously high Spurs defensive line contributed to the fatal defeats for Villas-Boas, but here Spurs pursued it as if they had forgotten all the lessons of the previous months. Straight after the goal, Lukas Podolski nearly darted in behind Younes Kaboul before Oxlade-Chamberlain stormed forward only to produce a disappointing chip that sailed away from goal. Next it was Santi Cazorla – moved into central midfield – sliding through Podolski, who squared to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who shot wide. Then the German, again escaping Kaboul, hammered his shot into the top of the side-netting.
Arsenal were far safer defensively – this was another impressive afternoon for Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker – but Spurs did force a few openings in the first half. Emmanuel Adebayor played like he meant it all afternoon, and he nearly turned in crosses from Andros Townsend and then Kyle Naughton before hitting an overhead kick just over the bar from an offside position.
The home side were likeliest to equalise at the start of the second half, which they began far sharper than Arsenal. Twice in the opening minutes Wojciech Szczesny dropped crosses. The first time Bacary Sagna quickly covered but the next, Nacer Chadli paused and dallied before hitting his shot straight at Koscielny.
This was not one of Chadli’s finest afternoons in a Spurs shirt – Sherwood did not look very impressed with him at times – and he flicked a Townsend cross wide a few minutes later. Chadli was replaced by Gylfi Sigurdsson but Arsenal were increasingly comfortable as the game went on – one header wide and one saved curling shot, both by Adebayor, representing the extent of Spurs’ late threat.
Mathieu Flamini, Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen all came on for Arsenal as they shut down the game. They could have had a penalty when Koscielny went down, and Lloris had to save from Mertesacker. But Arsenal saw out their 1-0 win, just as they did at the Emirates six months ago.
Tottenham were obviously frustrated. Sherwood tore off his gilet in the first half and threw the ball at Sagna, encouraging him to take a throw-in. The fans implored Sherwood to bring on Roberto Soldado but jeered when it was at the expense of Christian Eriksen. Arsenal fans sang about going to Wembley. Tottenham’s season is finished.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1) Lloris 5; Naughton 6, Kaboul 4, Vertonghen 5, Rose 5; Sandro 6 (Paulinho, 68, 5), Bentaleb 5; Townsend 7, Chadli 4 (Sigurdsson 69, 5), Eriksen 6 (Soldado 82); Adebayor 7
Arsenal (4-3-3) Szczesny 5; Sagna 7, Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 8, Gibbs 7; Chamberlain 7 (Vermaelen 85), Arteta 7, Cazorla 7; Rosicky 7 (Flamini 69, 6) Giroud 5, Podlski 6 (Monreal 77)
Match rating: 8
Man of the match: Koscielny
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