Saturday, January 4, 2014

Arsenal 2 - Spurs 0 (FA Cup)

Arsenal looked quick, bright, and aggressive from the start of today's 3d round FA Cup match against North London rivals Tottenham. The Gunners' passing and movement were excellent throughout, in what had to be one of their best all-around matches of the season. With a dearth of strikers to choose from, Arsenal started with the combination of Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry upfront. Walcott really has been rounding into excellent form since his return from injury, and his pace gave Spurs trouble until he injured himself late in the game  (more on that shortly). And Gnabry, who is just back from injury himself, continues to be a revelation for the Gunners; his speed, technical ability on the ball, and vision for the right pass make him a multi-threat player. Indeed, he set up Arsenal's first goal, when he broke free to the center edge of the box, and fed a perfectly weighted ball putting Santi Cazorla in on goal. Cazorla blasted it unerringly first time into the far corner of the net with his left foot.

Tottnenham created their fair share of chances as well, but not nearly as many as Arsenal, who could well have gone up by more than 1-0 at halftime. But Arsenal had to wait until the middle of the second half to put the game to rest, when the evergreen Thomas Rosicky committed a fine act of larceny, stealing the ball off the foot of Spurs defender Danny Rose at the halfway line before sprinting towards the goal and finally chipping it in over the sprawling Hugo Lloris. At that point, the match seem done and dusted.

Arsenal had to play the last 15 minutes of the match (including stoppage time) with only 10 men after Theo Walcott twisted his left knee and had to leave the match. With the Gunners defending in numbers, Spurs weren't able to create many chances even with the man advantage. It was a complete team performance by the Gunners. Every player worked hard, played with speed, and performed well. There's something about a North London derby that brings out the best in Arsenal players.

Arsene Wenger will be concerned with yet another injury to his already depleted strike force. Giroud is nearly back from his ankle injury, but Bendtner will be out for weeks; and now there will be doubts about Walcott's fitness. Hopefully, Podolski will regain his form quickly, now that he's back from injury. Gnabry seems fit and able. And Oxlade-Chamberlain should be back soon from a long injury layoff. But Arsenal still need more help upfront. Wenger already has dismissed rumors tying Arsenal to Fulham's talented but tempermental striker Dimitar Berbatov. But long-time Wenger target Diego Costa is unlikely to be available before next summer. Wenger has not quite promised to make a signing during the January transfer window, but it seems more than likely that he will.

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