Gunners dig in for White Hart Lane win
Rosicky goal after 72 seconds enough to see off north London rivals Tottenham
Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky (right) celebrates his goal against Tottenham with striker Olivier Giroud. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Tottenham 0 Arsenal 1
It seems a long time ago that Tottenham Hotspur were winning this fixture and the then manager, André Villas-Boas, was talking about Arsenal as being in a “negative spiral.” It was March 3rd of last year and Tottenham could look down in the Premier League table and see their neighbours seven points below them.
Now, it is Tottenham who are labouring, despite the blood and guts of the Tim Sherwood era, and Arsenal who scent what would be the crowning glory of their renaissance. In the season where nobody appears ready to strike out for the title, Arsenal continue to sit pretty.
This victory, secured by Tomas Rosicky’s sumptuous early blast, was huge and one benefit was that it moved them significantly clear of Tottenham in fifth place - the margin is now nine points and there has been a 16-point swing since the previous derby at this venue. Champions League qualification is virtually theirs yet again.
But Arsenal have grander targets and they fired their dreams with a ballsy victory, which was defined not only by Rosicky’s moment of magic but their refusal to yield to a second-half assault by Tottenham that was heavy on aggression and directness, if lacking in cutting edge. Once again Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were immense.
The celebrations at full-time from Arsenal’s players and supporters said everything. Shirts were flung into the away enclosure while the goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, whipped out his mobile phone and filmed the fans. For Arsene Wenger, match number 999 at Arsenal was glorious.
Tottenham cannot win the very biggest matches this season and if there was wholehearted commitment throughout and a fine performance from the striker Emmanuel Adebayor, they could not make the difference. Their support was left as frustrated as Sherwood, who had vented and picked arguments on the touchline.
There was the moment when he replaced Christian Eriksen with Roberto Soldado on 82 minutes and the crowd booed that rather summed up the angst. Tottenham remain some way short of their top-four ambitions.
Arsenal had wanted to draw the sting from what is always an occasion to have veins in foreheads bulging and Rosicky ensured that their start was picture perfect. There is a reason why Wenger tends to trust Rosicky in the biggest matches and here was further proof.
After a quick break and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s slightly scuffed lay-off, Rosicky exploded a first-time, right-footed drive that was still rising when it ripped into the far top corner. Hugo Lloris was motionless. You do not save those. It was only Rosicky’s third of the season, although one of the others had come in the FA Cup win over Tottenham.
The afternoon had begun with a group of five blokes outside the stadium waving two placards that read: Levy Out. There are usually gripes in these parts and the chairman, Daniel Levy’s, high-stakes style is not without its critics. The tension pulsed underneath the passion and, for the third consecutive match, Sherwood struggled to keep a lid on it from his station at the very edge of the technical area.
After the spats with Chelsea’s Steve Holland and Jorge Jesus of Benfica, Sherwood went crackers in the 15th minute after Oxlade-Chamberlain took a pass from Rosicky, ran away from Nabil Bentaleb and found no Tottenham central defenders in front of him. So he kept going and, one on one with Lloris, he had to score. Instead, his clipped effort went well wide but an apoplectic Sherwood tore off his gilet and slung it low at where his substitutes were sitting.
Sherwood’s frustration was directed at his centre-halves, Jan Vertonghen and Younès Kaboul, with both looking shaky and the latter not fully fit, but it was surely the manager’s decision to ask them to hold such a high line. Arsenal threatened to expose them with smart through-balls or breaking runners and Lloris, as is his wont, came a long way off his line to address the danger. Lukas Podolski flickered. It was all pretty nervy for Tottenham in the first half.
The home team, though, showed character to press at the other end, where Adebayor had three sniffs in the first half - the third, when he touched narrowly wide of the far post from Kyle Naughton’s cross. Adebayor put himself about but he allied intelligence to the power. His movement was sharp.
It was no-holds-barred stuff, with the commitment best illustrated by Bacary Sagna’s shuddering first-half challenge on Danny Rose. After taking a heavy touch, Sagna smashed into the Tottenham full-back to send him spinning up into the air. It was very hard but it actually looked as though he had got the ball, despite the yellow card that came his way. Rose, to his great credit, picked himself straight back up.
Arsenal would have been out of sight at the interval with greater ruthlessness in the final third but Tottenham emerged with even more energy for the second half. It had been easy to imagine Sherwood tearing strips off the dressing-room walls during half-time.
Tottenham flirted with the equaliser, as Szczesny endured two lapses from crosses. On the second, in the 48th minute, Nacer Chadli got the ball, worked himself a little room and looked set to score. Koscielny, with the goalkeeper out of the picture, made a heroic goal-line block. The home crowd howled.
The contrast in styles was marked as both teams mirrored their managers. Tottenham were all action and it looked as if they intended to bludgeon the ball home while Arsenal sought to finesse what might have been a decisive second opening.
If the gilet went in the first-half, it was the kitchen sink in the second. Tottenham came to dominate in territorial terms and it became a question of whether they could wear Arsenal down. Sherwood tinkered in an attacking sense with his substitutions, although he left the introduction of Soldado until his final roll while Wenger’s three changes were defensive-minded.
Adebayor got above Koscielny to nod just wide while he worked Szczesny at the very end. Koscielny might have had a penalty for a pull by Vertonghen and Lloris saved brilliantly from Mertesacker. Sherwood finished by getting in a funk with Sagna and throwing the ball, with no little feeling, at him. Arsenal did enough.