The perfect response on what was a testing week leading up to this North London Derby. The mother of all comebacks and a beating that they well and truly deserved. This was a performance of character and desire. Forget the win at Stamford Bridge, this sets the bar on a whole completely different level. This was us against them and we emerged victorious.
This doesn’t wipe away the pains of the season or paper over any form of cracks. This merely squashed ridiculous points about how there’s a power shift in North London. 7 points remains of the gap and with how the Premier League is panning out this season, hard to be certain that the gap won’t be bridged. This is merely another occasion to highlight the gap in tactical capabilities of the managers.
Harry Redknapp took us lightly and went for the jugular, starting with 2 strikers and playing with just 2 bodies in the middle. Arsene Wenger stuck to his formation but raised eyebrows with certain selection. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho were both on the bench as the responsibilities passed to Theo Walcott and Yossi Benayoun. The battle was there to be won in midfield and 3 men easily overpowered the 2 wearing white.
That said, our poor defensive shape caught us out and the enemy took an early lead. Laurent Koscielny slipped which allowed Emmanuel Adebayor to turn easily and slip in Louis Saha who was in acres of space. The run of Kyle Walker was the one which made that goal. Walker’s run meant that Thomas Vermaelen had to follow and thus opening the middle channel for Saha to run into. Kieran Gibbs tried hard to cover but couldn’t. A deflection looped the ball behind Wojciech Szczesny and into the net. Our midfielders were culpable of not picking up Walker’s run and protecting the back four.
It got worse half an hour later. A similar sort of space opened up and this time Luka Modric slipped in Gareth Bale. Gibbs wasn’t strong enough in his challenge and allowed Bale to get ahead. Then the enemy dived. Szczesny didn’t touch him and neither did Gibbs. Mike Dean bottled it and gave the penalty. The fact that he didn’t send off Szczesny for it probably meant that he realised his error couldn’t rescind his decision. Adebayor slotted home the ensuing kick and that was to be his only joy on this birthday of his.
Then the comeback started. 16 minutes was how long the period was between us being 2-0 down to being 3-2 up. In so many ways, it made up for what happened in the corresponding fixture last season. Walcott had a hand in 2 goals before half time. His quick release set up Robin Van Persie for the shot that hit the post. Mikel Arteta played the ball in again for the on-rushing Bacary Sagna to power a bullet header past Brad Friedel. A goal before half time and spirits were raised. It was the right encouragement going into the second half.
But Arsenal were not done. Within 3 minutes we were on the attack once again. Walcott made the run into the box which Alex Song tried to pick out. It didn’t work this time but it will later in the match. Two subsequent poor clearance from Sp*rs defenders left RvP with the ball on the edge of the penalty box. A swivel and a turn later, he curled a beautiful shot beyond Friedel’s dive. 2-2 and the momentum was firmly with us.
Within 5 minutes of the restart, we went into the lead for the first time in the match. Song won the ball and kept possession in midfield before releasing it to RvP who switches it to the right to Tomas Rosicky. It went further right to Sagna who drove a lovely low ball right between the penalty spot and the goal. Rosicky nipped in and scored. It has been a long time coming and his recent performances has deserved some reward. The fact that he did it with his left foot, one that he rarely ever use to kick a ball, made it even more incredible.
In the space of 3 minutes, Walcott ended the contest with 2 superbly taken goals. He had already missed one chance earlier as his shot just missed the far post. Put through first by RvP, then by Song, Walcott showed variation in his finishing. A chip for the first one and then the drive for the second, this time finding the bottom corner. He took a lot of stick over his performances of late (some justified) but showed what his presence brings. Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been a very attacking left back for Sp*rs and has built a very good combination with Bale on the left hand side. But that was non existent today because Walcott pushed him back.
The defence had a torrid first half but shored up in the second half. Szczesny had nothing to do at all in the second. Even after we took the lead, we didn’t let the pressure dissolve and kept going at it. It was good to see how well we maintained our level of concentration. Something which has gone missing at certain times this season.
RvP, Walcott, Benayoun and Rosicky will get all the plaudits but I thought one other midfielder deserved a lot of praise. Sp*rs has been lavished with the tag of being the most attacking footballing side to watch this season. Yet, apart from that 2 poor moments in the first half, we hardly see the attacking side of their game yesterday. I put that down to Song, who had another one of his immense games. His reading of the game was top notch and even played his part in creating 2 of our goals.
We played a preferred back four yesterday with everyone in their favoured/usual position. That 2 moments apart, this has been what we’re missing this season. The defensive stability when we have everyone in their right position. Gibbs was taken off when the game was won and so far, there’s been no news of him picking up any injury and that is good to hear.
Yesterday was the most beautiful North London Derby that I’ve ever witnessed. To win 5-2 from 2-0 down is no mean feat. Yesterday, every single player in red and white put in their effort. We applaud that. Savour it.
Up The Arsenal.