Sunday, September 1, 2013

One Nil To The Arsenal: Arsenal 1 - Tottenham 0

A victory for stinginess over free-spending? In four games this season (in all competitions) Tottenham, with its collection of new, expensive talent have scored three goals, all on penalty kicks. Arsenal's Oliver Giroud has scored more than that (4) on his own.

It was his first half goal, at the end of a flowing move and a fine cross from Walcott, that gave Arsenal the three points in today's derby. Giroud flicked Walcott's cross almost casually with the outside of his left boot at the near post from six yards out. It was not an easy shot, but Giroud made it look easy.

Arsenal carried the 1-0 lead into the dressing room at halftime, thanks in part to a very solid defensive display. Arsenal's back four, supported well by midfielders working back, mostly prevented Tottenham from creating scoring chances with well-timed tackles. Szczesny was required to make only two tough-ish saves in the entire half.

But the first-half was not free of bad news as Jack Wilshire had to be substituted in the final minutes of the first half because he was not feeling well; at least he wasn't injured. The newly signed former Invincible (from Arsenal's 2004-5 unbeaten Championship squad) Mathieu Flamini took his place. Flamini, who was surplus to requirements at AC Milan this season, is a legitimate holding midfielder, a position where Arsenal definitely have needed help. If he has anything left at this point in his career, his signing will prove valuable (even if Wenger didn't have to spend a single pound to get him).

The second half started with a bit less fire and flow than the first, but as time wore on Tottenham had to commit more men to attack in an effort to get back in the match, and Arsenal started looking for opportunities on the counter. Arsenal's defense retained a good shape and the midfielders kept tracking back in the support, so that Tottenham found it difficult to create any really good chances. On a couple of occasions, Arsenal's counterattack sprung into life, but each time the final pass didn't quite find its target.

In the 76th minute, Arsenal suffered its first real defensive lapse, and Tottenham may consider themselves unlucky not to have scored, despite a fine save by Szczesny of one deflected shot. The ball was pinballing around the Arsenal area, and the Gunners were lucky that it didn't wind up in the back of their net. A few minutes later, Arsenal probably should have scored at the other end. After that, it was just a matter of Arsenal absorbing Tottenham's frenzied pressure in the five minutes of stoppage time. That the Gunners withstood the pressure is a very good sign, and must give the defense confidence.

Just in case Arsene Wenger wants to take this game as evidence that Arsenal are prepared to challenge for the title with their current squad, here's a list of the substitutes on the bench to remind him that his team lack depth in quality: Fabianski; Sagna (who came on as a second-half stoppage-time substitute though , like Wilshire, he was suffering from illness that prevented him from starting the match); Monreal (who came on as a second-half substitute); Flamini (who came on as a first-half substitute); Gnabry; Gedion Zelalem; and Sanogo. If Arsenal are to compete for silverware this season (or any season), it's not enough to have a strong starting 11 (which they do); they must have strength and quality in depth (which they don't). It will have not gone unnoticed by Arsenal fans in the stands that on a couple of occasions towards the end of the match, Ramsey and Gibbs were both seen to be grabbing their hamstrings.

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