A sensational strike from Tomas Rosicky inside 75 seconds was enough to give Arsenal a vital win over north London rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane and keep firmly in the Premier League title race.
The win puts Arsenal level on points with second-placed Liverpool and just four back of Chelsea on whom they still have a game in hand and face in just over a week’s time. While their ambitions remain loftier, the victory also means that it will now take a dramatic collapse for Arsene Wenger’s side not to make it into the Champions League. Defeat for Tottenham leaves them trailing their local foes by nine points and having played a game more.
For the home side it was a third defeat in eight days and leaves their season on the verge of petering out into inconsequence. But after an error-strewn display against Chelsea and a listless performance against Benfica, this was at least a significantly improved showing. Tim Sherwood certainly couldn’t accuse his players of a lack of effort. Indeed, Spurs made the running for large portions of the match as they went in search of an equalizer to Rosicky’s early strike. Sherwood’s setup still had ample holes in it for Arsenal to exploit, but had Tottenham, and Nacer Chadli in particular, took advantage of one of their several second-half chances then they may well have got something from the match.
Instead Arsenal in the end held on with a degree of comfort in what was a solid and professional display after the disappointment of crashing out of the Champions League in midweek. Missing the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and, of course, Theo Walcott, Arsenal lacked a concerted threat but a piece of magic from the ever-reliable Rosicky proved decisive.
Following on from their tumultuous past week, Tottenham got off to a disastrous start in the derby. The hosts were caught cold as Rosicky led a break from deep and, after getting the ball back from Oxlade-Chamberlain just inside the corner of the box, he unleashed an unstoppable effort that soared past Hugo Lloris in the hosts’ goal.
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It was down the wide open gaps down both the channels of their defense where Tottenham continued to be exposed in the opening stages. In similar fashion to Benfica’s opening goal against them on Thursday night, Oxlade-Chamberlain got in behind but, with Lukas Podolski offering the chance of a square pass, the midfielder tried a cute dink over Lloris and got it horribly wrong. Posolski’s anger was evident but surpassed by that of Sherwood on the Tottenham bench who stripped off and threw his jacket in frustration.
Soon Arsenal got in between the gaps down the right of Tottenham’s defense. Again, though Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to produce a desired finish, this time after a pull back from Podolski. Spurs gradually got going and created their first clear chance of the afternoon before the break when Emmanuel Adebayor was unable to turn a near-post cross goalward under strong pressure from Per Mertesacker.
Arsenal were grateful to their defenders shortly after the half-time interval, too. Wojciech Szczesny twice made a hash of dealing with crosses in the space of a few seconds but both times Chadli was unable to capitalize. On the second occasion he appeared certain to bring his side level, but Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny embodied their resolute performances by forming an effective barrier in front of the goalline. Chadli soon squandered another opening when his flick from an Andros Townsend cross failed to find the target. The theme continued with Koscielny doing enough to prevent Adebayor from getting a back-post header on target.
After that burst of impetus to begin the second period, Tottenham’s charge rather faded out. Indeed, only a wonderful one-handed save from Lloris prevented Mertesacker from doubling Arsenal’s lead. Sherwood brought on Roberto Soldado to go with two men up front, but Wenger countered with three defensive changes and it proved effective as Arsenal were rarely troubled in the closing minutes en route to claiming a crucial win.