November 18, 2012
Apologies if what follows is any less coherent than usual, but I have to confess that today’s blog is brought to you in association with a few too many celebratory San Miguels so my head is possibly still on the squiffy side.
But bloody hell was it worth it.
I was hoping yesterday morning that we might produce a result similar to the corresponding game last year that could help to ignite the season. I didn’t expect the exact same scoreline. I’m definitely not complaining.
We started off nervous yesterday, not only on the pitch but certainly where I was in the stands. For the opening quarter of an hour it looked like being a long and forgettable afternoon as Spurs’ decision to start with two up top in Adebayor and Defoe causes us problems at the back. Still, regardless of formation it didn’t explain the calamitous lapse in defensive concentration that saw Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna step up while Vermaelen and Koscielny stayed deep to allow Jermain Defoe to stroll onto Jan Vertonghen’s lumped ball over the top and run unimpeded on goal.
It was the kind of defending that would shock you at Sunday League level. The old half and half offside trap. The 50-50. You step up we’ll stay back. A disaster. Defoe should have done better with his shot but Szczesny should have done better with his save too. He seemed a bit slow getting down to it and could only palm the ball out to everyone’s favourite pantomime dickhead Emmanuel Adebayor.
With us looking jaded and Ade looking dangerous it seemed like it was all set-up to be his day. Surely three points, a victory over his old foes and a man of the match performance beckoned. Just keep your cool, Ade, all this could be yours. I mean surely only a complete imbecile could mess this one up. Oh! Sorry!
Not eight minutes after putting his side ahead and feeling the need to leap over the advertising hoardings to flaunt it in front of the home fans, Adebayor launched himself studs up at Santi Cazorla and sent the little Spaniard arse over tit. He immediately went for the old ‘thumbs up and wink at the ref’ routine as if to say ‘yeah that’s cool right. We agreed wild, studs-up challenges were fair game today didn’t we?’. Howard Webb played his part, milking the suspense for all that it was worth but for some reason the little thumbs up didn’t cut it. He brandished the red and everything changed.
Season defining moments come from all sorts of unlikely sources but who’s to say Emmanuel Adebayor didn’t make his greatest ever contribution to Arsenal Football Club with that ridiculous challenge yesterday. Immediately the crowd came alive. And it wasn’t too long until the players did too.
Six minutes later we were level. Theo Walcott showed once again how much he’s improved with his wing play and balls into the box. He got beyond Vertonghen and whipped a good cross in for Mertesacker who got himself some instant redemption for the calamity at the back. His header was perfect. Great power and ideally placed right in the corner beyond Lloris’ flailing arm.
We started to play a bit. There’s still not a huge amount of understanding amongst these players but Wilshere was lively, snapping into challenges and getting the crowd on their feet. The attention paid to him gave Cazorla a bit more space than he’s had of late and he was dangerous. He blazed one shot narrowly over the bar and another great Theo ball saw Giroud’s strong header well saved by Lloris.
When we did manage to combine in midfield we saw signs of what this team could become and Wilshere’s first touch return from an Arteta ball caused confusion in the Spurs ranks allowing Podolski to get on the ball in the box. Jonathan Pearce on Match of the Day tried to suggest that his finish was a fluke. He’s obviously not aware of the fact that Podolski simply takes his chances and while the ball bobbled a bit on its way I’ve no doubt that his decision to swivel and finish at the far post was a deliberate one.
Now we were rocking and you just hoped we could land another blow while they were on the ropes. We did. Cazorla provided a burst from the midfield. He was brought down but leapt back to his feet, Webb waved play on and he continued his run into the box. The cut back was just behind Olivier Giroud but he knows where the goal is at the moment and the finish was much better than it looked. He clattered it home at the near post.
3-1 at half time and the atmosphere out on the concourse was the best I’ve ever seen it at the Emirates. The queue for the loos and the overpriced chicken tikka pies are usually a fairly solemn affair but here there was full-throated singing, fans being lifted on other fans’ shoulders. It was enough to make a pessimist like myself fear for what was to come second half.
Spurs decided to go for it and you felt that the next goal was massive. Happily it went our way. We caught them on the break and Walcott’s ball found Podolski on the left. His swept ball to the far post reminded me of the pace and confidence we used to break with back in the Invincibles era particularly when Cazorla sprinted on to it and smashed it home.
They looked well beaten but we still found a way to offer them a chink of light. Sagna was guilty of stopping to appeal for a throw-in to allow Bale to run infield. None of the defenders got tight enough to him and he finished with his right foot. I’ve been vocal about Bale’s tendency to cheat in the past but there’s no doubt what a quality player he is. Yesterday he looked like their only player capable of anything and he ran himself ragged trying to get them back into it. How much longer until he sees the light and moves on to bigger things?
The squitty bum silence that followed said more about our past tendencies to throw away leads than it did the actual threat that Spurs posed yesterday. But it did provide a sort of feedback loop which affected the team. Mikel Arteta gave the ball away far too easily on a couple of occasions to turn up the nerve level. It’s something that’s crept into his game for the last month or so and is distinctly un-Arteta like behaviour. Hopefully he can stamp that out.
Still we held on and rubbed salt into those Tottenham wounds by deciding to replicate the score from last season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a fun cameo, terrorising Vertonghen late on and eventually feeding Walcott in the penalty box in injury time. Walcott took a touch to set himself then fired home and the rout was complete.
Although if you listen to Andre Villas-Boas it wasn’t a rout at all. In fact if it was a rout it was Spurs who were the routers and we were merely the routees. Err…come again Andre.
I think we were on top from the first minute to the last. The scoreline is big for Arsenal but the game wasn’t so big. It was big on our side. We were unbelievable today.
‘That’s right, losers! We were on top from the first minute to the last. When Arsenal scored their first goal we were on top then. When they scored their second goal we were on top. When they scored their third and fourth we were just in cruise control, leaning back, one hand on the wheel smiling at the honeys. When Oxlade came on and kept making Vertonghen fall on his arse? We planned that. That was all part of it. Yeah suck it up, Arsenal! You got owned!!’
I’m not under any illusions. Adebayor did us a big favour yesterday and who knows what sort of result we would have got against eleven men, but we can only beat what’s there and we did that with a touch of style in the end. We need to take that and see where we can go with it.
There were hints of a growing understanding amongst the players yesterday that could bode well. Wilshere gets better and his partnership with Cazorla could be key. We knew when we lost Van Persie that goals would have to be spread around this year and that’s really happening. Giroud got his seventh in nine yesterday and looks a real presence up top. Walcott got his ninth of the season and we simply have to get that contract sorted out. To lose him now at the height of his powers would be too much for this fanbase to take. Podolski’s managed six goals now too from what I can only assume to be about six chances so all of those players should be looking at reaching the high teens at least if they can keep it going this season. That will make a difference.
You just had to look around at the final whistle to see what it meant yesterday. Half of the players did a virtual lap of honour at the end. The crowd stayed behind to salute their team. It felt GOOD and it hasn’t felt that way at the Arsenal for a while. Time to take that good feeling into the Christmas period and see if we can’t multiply it.