Arsenal vs. Tottenham: Derby Victory Shows Gunners Remain Strong but Vulnerable
Despite being under incredible pressure to act, Arsene Wenger hasn't made any serious moves over the summer transfer window—much to the ire of fans worldwide.
That's not exactly a groundbreaking statement at all; pundits and fans have been saying the same ever since the summer transfer window opened all those weeks ago.
But while many expected the criticism to come on Wenger after his failure to act and many expected the squad to show signs of cracking at times, what they didn't expect was a derby performance for the ages. Given all of Tottenham Hotspur's spendings this summer, what they didn't expect was for Arsenal to come out and dominate Spurs in front of their home fans.
Yet for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, that's exactly what they did.
FT Arsenal 1-0 Spurs. Smiling.— Michael Cummings (@MikeCummings37) September 1, 2013
Seemingly buoyed by the criticisms and frustrations that have been their namesake this summer, Arsenal were by far the more energetic of the two teams.
Early attacking raids drew free-kicks and subsequent chances for Santi Cazorla, but the Spaniard couldn't get the early goal that Gunners fans craved. That role—it seemed—would have to be filled by a very special player, and it would be none other than the club's talisman, Olivier Giroud, who fired the home side clear after some wonderful counterattacking football.
Cazorla turned brilliantly in midfield; Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky combined well to release Theo Walcott, who played a sublime ball across to the Frenchman.
And in one graceful flick, it was 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Just like nobody had expected.
The Gunners would come close again soon after but saw their efforts foiled by a superb Hugo Lloris. From there, the story was simply one that Arsenal have written time and time again before—dominate possession, control the tempo and allow few chances as a result.
Besides a deflected shot, the Gunners were never really threatened at the back. They deserved the three points.
They deserve the accolades that come they way as a result of the win.
121 million or 0 euros spent: Arsenal have now beaten Spurs at home more times in the PL (13) than any other London opponent.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) September 1, 2013
The biggest question to come out of the victory, however, won't be about their North London rivalry or the pursuit of a top-four finish. The sole question—and most important ramifications for Arsenal—are directly linked to the remaining hours of the transfer window and whether or not Wenger needs to add to his squad before the deadline closes Monday.
Gritty win. Committed performance from a stretched squad. NOW BUY SOME PLAYERS.— James Dall (@JamesDallESPN) September 1, 2013
If he does need to add, the questions become about where and with whom.
That's if he needs to add.
After all, the Gunners did just defeat Tottenham—who added the likes of Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Etienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli and Paulinho—without signing anyone. (That's meaning no disrespect to the likes of Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini, but they just aren't at the same level as Spurs' signings).
Thus it stands to reason—logically—that if the Gunners can defeat a team like Tottenham without their stars, then perhaps the situation at the Emirates isn't as bad as it might have seemed after the defeat to Aston Villa. Such thinking certainly has its merits and is, for the most part, correct.
Despite a lack of arrivals this summer akin to that of years gone by, Arsenal still have a very talented squad at their disposal. When healthy (which we'll come back to shortly), the Gunners are more than capable of fielding a world-class starting team able to mix it with the best in the Premier League and, most likely, with their strong Champions League opponents.
As they showed against Tottenham, they are capable of playing very good football. Counterattacking and building...passing and moving—just like Wenger desires.
Regardless of what their league opponents might have done this summer, Arsenal have fortified their squad. Like any team, there are weaker spots and areas for opponents to exploit, and there are questions for Wenger to answer over the course of the season ahead.
Central midfield—for example—can become a strength in the slew of options that Jack Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla and Mikel Arteta provide together—but it also leads to many questions about what combination should be selected on any given weekend, and whether that duo or trio is capable of getting the job done. The same goes for many positions around the field—striker, right-back.
But in all of that, the fact remains that Arsenal do have a good squad. They have a manageable squad; they have a squad that is indeed strong enough.
Yet at the same time, that fact comes with an asterisk after it.
Their squad is strong enough*—when healthy.
And after what we've seen throughout the course of the season so far, that will be the biggest question for Wenger to answer over the remaining hours of the transfer window. If injuries do come—which they already have and will most likely continue to as well—do they have the depth of talent required to get a result against the bigger teams in world football?
Are they simply a one-hit wonder, or can they produce an entire album?
So far, the jury is still out.
90 million out, still second best. North London is Red.— Tom Kinslow (@TomKinslow) September 1, 2013
Yes, Arsenal got the result they desired here (and against Fenerbahce) with a severly depleted squad. Missing the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thomas Vermaelen, Lukas Podolski and Arteta, the Londoners got a huge road win in Turkey and then followed it up with a gritty victory over their "noisy neighbors." Yes, they won without their stars.
But against Spurs, the doubts were never far away for Arsenal fans. The reality was clear that outside of their starting team, there are few options available.
It's now that Arsenal's weak squad is costly. We have so few reliable pros we can bring on.— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) September 1, 2013
That's the vulnerability that Arsenal will seemingly face all season, and it's the dichotomy that Wenger must find an answer to over the final day of the transfer window.
The starting squad is strong, but do they have the depth? Can the likes of Giroud and Cazorla cope playing 60-65 games of football this year?
Can anyone, for that matter?
Answers to such questions won't be known for a while. We might start to get a glimpse in November when the Gunners play Liverpool (H), Borussia Dortmund (A) and Manchester United (A) in the space of eight days. We'll get another glimpse in December when they play Napoli (A), Manchester City (A) and Chelsea (H) with just a 10-day period between them all, and we'll see them most clearly when the season is on the line for Arsenal in April and May.
That will be when we see how Wenger's deadline-day signings—or lack of them—affect Arsenal. That's when we'll see whether his decisions were correct or not.
Arsene Wenger should add...
But for now, the future remains more promising than it originally appeared for the Gunners. An early loss to Aston Villa had the writing on the wall, but strong results since then have seemingly restored order—something that was all but confirmed with a 1-0 victory over a big-spending Tottenham Hotspur club.
Arsenal have proven that they are strong enough to compete this year, but have also shown their vulnerability in terms of depth and consistency.
Intriguing times lie ahead for the North Londoners, that's for certain.
Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: @dantalintyre.
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