A goal in each half, from Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, gave Arsenal a deserved 2-0 victory over their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday to move into the FA Cup fourth round.
While Tim Sherwood has overseen a return of 10 points from four matches in the Premier League since taking charge, Spurs have now been knocked out of both domestic cup competitions. And the former midfielder’s tactics left his team painfully exposed in the area of the pitch he used to patrol as Arsenal won for the fourth time in succession against their neighbors at the Emirates.
Tottenham’s two man front line of Roberto Soldado and former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor posed Arsenal a threat early on, but that subsided and the formation left their midfield undermanned against the strongest area of their opponents. The first goal, just past the half-hour mark was a case in point as Cazorla finished after Tottenham had been cut open, while Rosicky raced clear to all-but secure the win in the 62nd minute.
Both sides were missing key personnel, with Tottenham handing a first start to Nabil Bentaleb, while Arsenal were without Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner up front and midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, who was only deemed fit enough to come off the bench. That meant Theo Walcott being deployed as a central striker and while he didn’t cover himself in glory, the man that took his place on the right, Serge Gnabry excelled. The one downside to the contest from Arsene Wenger’s point of view was a late injury to Walcott that meant Arsenal having to play out the remaining 10 minutes with 10 men. Tottenham, though, had little with which to respond as they faded as an attacking threat as the match wore on.
Tottenham had gotten off to the quicker start, with their greater intensity leading to the game’s first chance. Laurent Koscielny hit the ball straight against Christian Eriksen deep inside his own half to send the Dane through on goal down the left of the box, but his effort was blocked at the near post by Lukasz Fabianski, making only his third appearance of the season.
But gradually Arsenal’s midfield quality and greater numbers began to tell. With little space in behind Tottenham’s deep defensive line, Walcott decided to come off the defenders and he twice went close with efforts from distance.
Meanwhile his understudy, Gnabry, was becoming an increasing factor. The young German might have done better when firing a left-footed shot over the bar, but minutes later he showed both strength and awareness to find Cazorla whose low first-time ball put Walcott through but the England man’s finish was all-too comfortable for Hugo Lloris to block.
There was little surprise then in the manner of Arsenal’s opening goal in the 31st minute. Capitalizing on too much space between Tottenham’s defense and midfield, Gnabry drifted forward toward the center of the pitch before slipping Cazorla inside Kyle Walker down the left of the area and the Spaniard met the ball with an unstoppable drive into the far corner of the net.
Sherwood had clearly instructed his defense to hold a higher line after the break, but they struggled to pose any real problems for an Arsenal team that could now play with composure and bide their time in picking off their opponents. Walcott twice went close again, first after Gnabry’s superb pass put him through but, forced wide, he could only shoot into the side netting and then when curling just wide from the edge of the box.
When the second goal did come, it was a disastrous moment for Spurs’ young full-back. Rose was left as the furthest man back following a Tottenham corner and when the ball came back to him on the halfway line he crucially dallied, allowing Rosicky to nip in and steal. With a clear run on goal, the experienced Czech showed admirable composure to shrug off the desperate attempt of Walker to get back before delightfully dinking a finish over Lloris.
Sherwood’s response was to bring off Soldado for Nacer Chadli and switch formation, but the horse had long since bolted. Spurs’ efforts to spark the match into life late on were meek, despite their numerical advantage, and only a fine save from Lloris prevented Ozil from adding a third. Wenger’s record of never having lost an FA Cup third round tie goes on and so does Arsenal’s reign as the leading force in north London.