Bleacher Report, you old dog. Long time no...er...post. The tenuousness of the Stone-Age wireless over here coupled with my relocation to Wellington—which is a city some readers might have actually heard of—has meant that hours to pen ultimately inconsequential musings on the fortunes of the red-and-white tenants of North London have been few and far between, but how I’ve missed you all.
Rest assured I don’t kid myself for a moment that you care an iota for the reasons for my unreliability. But, conscience duly purged, let’s talk football!
And what a talk it shall be.
The most difficult question is what the most powerful force in the game was. Olivier Giroud’s pulsating pectoral muscles? Santi Cazorla’s wizard-like technical skills? The full-throttled chorale of red-and-white voices ringing out from all the corners of the Emirates?
All serious contenders. Mindful of the disingenuous favours afforded Arsenal on match day by Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas, however, a case could certainly be made that irony was the winner on the day.
Irony in spirit, but Arsenal on paper. Now that is a match made in heaven if ever I’ve seen one.
The poetic synchronicity of the Spurs result holds a wonderful sense of déjà vu. For the second time in a year, the Gunners demolished their inbred half-cousins from down the road by a score-line of 5-2, potentially kick-starting a season which has threatened to descend into a worryingly familiar pattern of shattered expectations and disappointment.
Even I, the most shamelessly one-eyed of Gunners fans, have been watching Arsenal’s recent games with a sort of resigned masochism.
A masochism usually reserved for inexcusably guilty vices like spending a hungover Sunday lying in bed eating fudge and watching the Everybody Loves Raymond omnibus on TV3.
The Spurs match, however, in typical North London Derby fashion, was different. It brought with it a sense of tingling anticipation and added weight beyond what the fixture materially represented. It wasn’t simply a chance—one of the rapidly diminishing few—to kick-start the season; it was a war against the Old Enemy, and oh, how the war was won.
A futile debate will rage until the two teams’ next encounter and beyond regarding The Dismissal. It is true that prior to Adebayor’s red card Tottenham had looked pretty good; they were pressing the Gunners well, and the juxtaposition between Defoe’s breathless poacher and Adebayor’s nomadic target man was causing problems in a nervy Arsenal defense.
Such problems were aptly demonstrated in Spurs’ first goal. An excellent ball from Vertonghen dropped in behind Mertesacker, who had been pulled out of position by Defoe’s run away from goal.
With excellent timing the Englishman darted in behind his marker, controlled Vertonghen’s ball—his shot, well-saved by Szczesny, rebounded into the centre of the penalty box at the mercy of the footballing gods...and who, oh who, but Judas himself was there to dink the ball into the net?
These were not the last of Arsenal’s defensive woes. Shortly afterwards, Lennon saw a low shot from the right skim Szczesny’s far post after a Thomas Vermaelen’s reticence allowed the England winger enough time to squeeze the drive between his legs (snicker).
Likewise, the 73rd minute saw an uncomfortably complacent Arsenal allow Sandro to gallop through the midfield and lay off a ball to Gareth Bale rampaging through down the left flank.
The Gunners’ blushes were only spared by poor decision-making by the Welshman. Rather than teeing up a tap-in for Defoe, he elected to drive the ball past the far post from an angle tighter than Billy Elliot’s leotard, and Szczesny watched the ball blaze wide of his left-hand post.
Despite the inadequacies of the defense, it was always going to be difficult for an already-depleted Tottenham side to contain the Gunners. The loss of Adebayor compounded this task. And, in a triumphant return to form, Arsenal’s front four delivered the coup de grace to Spurs’ fragile backbone.
Olivier Giroud’s performances are rapidly gaining in momentum and confidence, and it was never more apparent than at the Emirates on Sunday.
The Frenchman held the ball up strongly and was unstoppable in the air. A noticeable feature of his performance was a tendency to drop deep—behind even Cazorla and his wingers—to compete for long balls from Szczesny and his central defenders.
It was precisely this tactic that led to Arsenal’s fourth goal.
Szczesny’s goal kick was latched onto by Giroud in the sort of position normally occupied by Jack Wilshere. His vacation of the central advanced position drew one of the central defenders out of position, and allowed a roaming Theo Walcott to slip into the space where Giroud would have been.
With Podolski on Walcott’s left shoulder, it was a 2v2 situation, and Walcott’s delicate through ball to the barnstorming German drew both the Tottenham defenders’ attentions, allowing Santi Cazorla to zip through on their outside shoulder and caress home Podolski’s excellent cross.
It was an excellent goal, the best of the game, and aptly showcased the quality that the front four showed throughout the game.
I’ve said before that Podolski is not the most technically gifted player seen in an Arsenal shirt, but he is as German as they come: he works hard—making more tackles than anyone on the weekend—he is earnest, he knows his strengths and he knows his limitations.
And he wears Adidas. A lot.
His goal may have been less a result of his own brilliance, and more a result of the aforementioned footballing gods pointing an almighty middle finger in William Gallas’s direction.
However, Podolski’s strength to hold up the ball under Gallas’s weight should not go unacknowledged; nor should the fact that he was in that position in the first place.
He has a natural goalscoring instinct—an instinct to arrive late in the box when the structure or flow of an attacking move may have faltered, because those are the times that a ball most often bobbles unexpectedly or takes an odd bounce off a defender. Those are the times when you need someone on clean-up duty, because the ball might just bobble to you, and if it does, that might just be 2-1.
Theo Walcott looked great.
Actually, I lie. Theo Walcott looked terrible, that mustache, my God, I can’t...urgh. He looked like a poorly-cast Cuban pizza boy in a scene from Scarface, but hey. He played a good game.
Theo will always have his critics, and the criticism that they deliver will always be somewhat justified, but the steps that he is taking to improve his game are admirable and, on the basis of the Spurs match, coming to fruition.
He was never afraid to cross the ball in the derby match, and it was simply wonderful to see.
Olivier Giroud, starved of any quality service in the air until now, suddenly became as potent and dangerous as a hybrid strain of smallpox and mad-cow.
Additionally and remarkably, Walcott’s ability to strike a dead ball now appears to be “not-that-bad”, contrary to popular opinion which would have you believe it was “worse-than-Bieber”.
And his pace. Oh, his pace. Whinge about him if you will, but also remember that Theo runs the 100m in 10.3 seconds. That almost qualifies him for the U.S Olympics team.
That’s one thing you definitely can’t coach.
And Santi Cazorla, well, well, well. Apparently nearly 50% of Cazorla’s passes came in the final third against Spurs. There are few things you can say about the diminutive Spaniard when he controls a game with such utter confidence and authority that haven’t already been said.
Cazorla’s close control is almost unparalleled in the Premier League. If it weren’t for David Silva, Yaya Toure and Juan Mata I would certainly rate him as the most gifted midfielder in England.
When granted the room and the freedom that Arsenal’s extra man provided, Cazorla simply ran riot. He was the man controlling the field, the quintessential quarterback, directing traffic and opening up holes almost at will through his movement and urgency.
However, all is not necessarily well. Minutiae and tactical nuance are difficult to detect or analyse in this match, because it was made so lopsided at such an early point, and concerns certainly remain.
After the defeats at Old Trafford, Carrow Road, and to Schalke at the Emirates—as well as the surrendering of 2-0 leads against the Germans and Fulham away—the season is still sitting below expectations.
And a 5-2 victory against Spurs is no use if the Gunners immediately slip back into Casual Friday mode. This is merely the establishment of a foundation, a foundation that must be built upon with confidence and assuredness.
Arsenal are a confidence team, and this victory will give them confidence, but it is too early to start proclaiming the Spurs result as a miraculous turning point in the season. The team is flawed, and those flaws will have to be quickly and methodically examined in order for the team to continue their ascent, onwards and upwards, into the Champions’ League spots.
I, however, can wait for those examinations a bit longer. There are more important things to be done right now. More rewarding things.
Like repeating to ourselves, time after time after time until it gets old, that we just gave those Spuds a right bloody thumping.
A right bloody thumping.
A right. Bloody. Thumping.
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