Arsenal dominated the second North London Derby of the season to beat Sp*rs 2-0 in the FA Cup 3rd Round at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky scored the decisive goals in a game in which Arsenal could have added several more, as the visitors rarely threatened us and we were able to enhance our supremacy over our noisy neighbours.
Arsene Wenger made several changes after the late New Year’s Day win against Cardiff City, with a start for Lukas Fabianski in goal, Thomas Vermaelen at centre back and captained the side, Tomas Rosicky and Serge Gnabry came into midfield and Theo Walcott played up front.
Both sides enjoyed early possession but Arsenal always looked the more dangerous right from the first whistle. Gnabry got to the by line but Walcott couldn’t get enough on the squared pass to test Hugo Lloris before Sp*rs had their best chance of the game in the ninth minute. Christian Eriksen was put through on goal after Laurent Koscielny’s clearance bounced straight off him, but his shot was well saved by Fabianksi at the near post.
Arsenal then had a series of chances, firstly for Walcott who, after a fine counter attack and excellent first touch, forced a good save from Lloris from the edge of the area. Another decent move saw Rosicky and Jack Wilshere combine before Walcott’s left footed effort deflected wide. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Gnabry in the area but his dipping effort went just over the bar.
Eriksen fired a free kick over after Vermaelen crunched Dembele, picking up a yellow card in the process, but it was Arsenal playing all of the football in the first half and Cazorla struck one wide from the edge of the D after combining with Rosicky. Walcott was then played through one-on-one with Lloris following some neat play between himself, Gnabry and Rosicky, but a poor first touch and weak shot made it easy for the Sp*rs keeper although the movement was fantastic.
Not to worry though as we were in front just after the half hour mark. Bacary Sagna found Gnabry deep in Sp*rs territory and the young German was allowed to turn and drive into the space allowed by a wailing defence. Walcott, ahead of him, took a couple of defenders with him to the right opening up space through the middle and on the left, and Gnabry rolled it into that area for Cazorla, who drilled it first time past Lloris.
We were good value for our lead at half time, although Walcott snatched a shot over the bar off a corner and Sagna almost got on the end of a Cazorla free kick before the interval. Roberto Soldado also reminded us he was actually playing by drilling a shot safely wide in the final moments of the half.
Wenger was forced into his first substitution at half time as Vermaelen went off following a kick to the knee, with Per Mertesacker coming on in his place.
The onus on the second period was for Arsenal to come out and exert our dominance to extend our lead and although we enforced plenty of early pressure, Soldado blasted one over the bar and put another one wide inside the opening ten minutes. Emmanuel Adebayor then missed the visitors best chance of the half as he controlled a cross well inside our area, but amusingly fell over whilst attempting to shoot on the turn. It summed up his game quite nicely as it was another Emirates return to forget for the ex-Gunner turned Mercenary.
Gnabry was enjoying a fine and confident display in only his fourth start of the season and was again involved as he cut in from the right and slipped through Walcott, who rounded Lloris and Dawson but the angle was too tight and his shot hit the side netting.
In the 62nd minute we scored the second, as Rosicky disposed the dallying, shocking, one-hit wonder of a left back Danny Rose (it was always going to come back to bite you) on the half way line, and ran the ball into the area before coolly chipping Lloris to double our lead.
Dembele had a shot from distance comfortably saved by Fabianski in between a couple of identical penalty shouts at either end, firstly as Walker made no attempt to play the ball and shoved Nacho Monreal out of play, before Monreal returned the favour on Walker two minutes later in our box. Both could easily be argued as fouls, but were consistently not given by Mark Clattenburg.
Arsenal made their remaining substitutions by the 75th minute as Mathieu Flamini came on for Wilshere and Mesut Ozil replaced Mikel Arteta. Cazorla then attempted a Xabi Alonso type halfway line chip of the keeper as Lloris strayed off his line but it sailed wide.
We then missed a glorious opportunity to score a third as we picked the ball up in Sp*rs territory, Gnabry squared it for Theo who took a touch and flashed it just wide, despite having men over on the left.
That turned out to be Walcott’s last meaningful contribution to the game as he was worryingly stretched off clutching his knee after a collision with Rose. The Sp*rs fans showed their usual quality by pelting him with all sorts as he was receiving treatment next to them, and on the stretcher on the way off Theo made sure they knew the score, gesturing the 2-0 score line with either hand towards them.
This didn’t go down too well with the angry mob from Middlesex as they continued to throw stuff at him, but this was drowned out by the home fans superb appreciation of Walcott’s efforts as he exited the stadium with several Arsenal scarves thrown onto him.
With no subs left we were a man down for the final ten minutes and we defended deep to ensure we didn’t allow Sp*rs a late route back in the game. This was pretty easy as Sp*rs were rather inadequate for the majority (or all of) the fixture, and the final chance of the game fell to Ozil who shot at Lloris after being slid in by Gnabry.
Clattenburg blew the final whistle just after Adebayor passed the ball straight out of play and a 2-0 victory was confirmed with Sp*rs out of the Cup, with Arsene Wenger, still undefeated in the FA Cup 3rd Round, shaking hands with a delighted Arsenal fan named Tim Sherwood who was posing in an enemy tracksuit. Obviously a competition winner or something…
Very little compares to the sheer ecstasy that follows a victory against Sp*rs, especially one in which we so easily dominated them and it was a game that we could have scored four or five.
It’s safe to say there was a fair amount of concern pre-match surrounding our line up given the changes, particularly the inclusion of a rusty goalkeeper and the centre back pairing of Koscielny and Vermaelen, which has a track record of being not too reliable.
Despite some early nervy clearance kicks, Fabianski looked pretty assured in goal although there wasn’t too much asked of him. Kos and Verm both showed moments of madness in the first half and Mertesacker’s introduction into the second half certainly calmed that down as Kosicelny was a lot more controlled after the break.
It was our attacking play that rightly gained the plaudits though, and Cazorla was again excellent and instrumental in a large percentage of our attacks, going with his all important and very well taken opening goal.
He was given MOTM by ITV, but for me Rosicky was the best player on the pitch. Playing Sp*rs seems to bring out the best in him, his work rate was phenomenal and he has a big game presence that will surely force Wenger to offer him the new contract he deserves.
Elsewhere, Gnabry had an incredibly positive impact on the game and was another MOTM candidate with six key passes and the one assist for Cazorla. He’s a player much hyped in the Arsenal world and that’s certainly a deserved mantle. Competition for places is at an all time high for Arsenal in those attacking midfield positions, but I hope we get to see a lot more of Gnabry in the future. If he keeps playing like he did yesterday, we’re bound to.
Wilshere was constantly frustrated as Sp*rs, Dembele in particular, tried to wind him up throughout with several off the ball kicks and even a reverse head-butt that Clattenburg ignored. But he still showed his quality even though he was more effective in the previous Christmas fixtures. Great to have Jack back to his near best and there’s plenty more to come from him too. Arteta was another top performer and vital in locking down and winning the midfield battle. He’s stepped up as of late and is clear and deserved number one holding midfielder at the Club right now.
Up top Walcott played fantastically. With no Giroud or Bendtner, we had to rethink our usual direct approach and we played the ball quickly and mainly on the floor and this allowed Walcott to flourish. His movement was superb, as it always is, and although he didn’t score despite a couple of good opportunities, he should be delighted with his evenings work. Hopefully his knee knock isn’t a bad one, as he’s one of the first names on the sheet as things stand.
The win keeps us in the FA Cup and comes at the expense of a rival contender for the prize. It’s one that Wenger has already admitted is a serious competition for Arsenal this year and rightly so given our unlikeliness to beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League (let’s be honest) and how tight it’s going to be in the League.
We now have a bit of a break until we travel to Birmingham to play Aston Villa in the League on Monday 13th January, so there’s plenty of time for the squad to recover and prepare for that, as well as enjoy another triumphant victory against that lot from up the road and keep an eye out for who we get in the 4th Round.