Wenger’s tried and trusted prove too good for Spurs
Giroud’s goal enough for Arsenal to win north London derby
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring against Tottenham Hotspur during their Premier League soccer match at the Emirates. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Arsenal 1 Tottenham 0: There has been much made of Arsenal’s summer transfer policy and there will be plenty more shouting before the window finally closes at 11pm on Monday night but, to Arsene Wenger’s mind, something fundamental has been overlooked. It is the enduring capacity of his starting XI, the one that has lost only once since March 3rd and has repeatedly found the means to get the job done.
Tottenham Hotspur’s visit, Wenger had said, was “another opportunity to show we are strong”. Their rivals might have spent all of the money – £110.5m to be precise – but there is life in the tried and trusted. This did not represent vindication – Arsenal and Wenger will be judged over nine long months - but it felt pretty close.
Arsenal created the better chances, both in the first half and on the counter in the second and they deserved the victory, which was given to them by Olivier Giroud’s fourth goal in five matches, even if it got pretty nervous for them at the end. Wenger finished with the full backs, Nacho Monreal and Bacary Sagna, in the wide midfield positions but Tottenham, despite building pressure, struggled to create anything of clear-cut note.
Theirs has been another summer of transition and it is obvious that their European and South American signings will require the time to gel; to knit as a cohesive whole in order to absorb the kick in the guts that is the loss of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, albeit for eye-watering money. They were never out of this game but they never truly looked like getting something. Arsenal’s full-time celebrations were frenzied. They hope that the win can prove a touchstone.
This was continuity versus a shake-up; the hare against the tortoise. Arsenal have always got there in the end, in terms of finishing above Tottenham, no matter how dynamic their rivals have looked in bursts but this season is supposed to be different, according to Tottenham. They are the club that is twisting, as Arsenal merely stick.
Claim and counterclaim or, in layman’s parlance, arguments, form the bedrock of derby day, as does passion and head-wrecking intensity. The atmosphere here was raw, the tempo high while action fizzed. It was gripping stuff.
Arsenal’s goal was a beauty, even if Andre Villas-Boas would have winced at the space that Theo Walcott was afforded in the inside right channel or wondered how he did not fall victim to Tottenham’s offside trap. The problem was that while the team’s defenders on the left were high up, those in the middle were not.
Walcott accepted Tomas Rosicky’s pass and he crossed low for Giroud, who worked himself clear of Michael Dawson to execute a wonderfully instinctive left-footed flicked finish. Hugo Lloris was beaten at his near post but not embarrassed.
Tottenham had their moments in the first-half. Roberto Soldado, whose raison d’etre is to come alive inside the area, dropped off into space to meet Kyle Walker’s cut-back only to see his shot blocked by Per Mertesacker.
Andros Townsend, England’s newest call-up, looked lively and inventive. Twice, he jinked inside to unload shots that tested Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal, though, were proactive and their midfield bristled with verve. Santi Cazorla was brilliant, as usual; Rosicky always seems to save his best for the derby while Aaron Ramsey was powerful and incisive. It feels like a trick of the mind that his career hung in the balance only three years ago after that grisly game at Stoke City.
The blot for Arsenal was Jack Wilshere. He has not looked right so far this season – even Wenger has admitted that he is not 100 per cent fit – and he was forced off in the 43rd minute. Wenger could not wait until the interval and he ordered Szczesny to put the ball into touch to allow him to make the change. He did not want to leave him on for a second too long.
Where Wilshere and fitness are concerned, there is palpable nervousness. On came the re-signed old boy, Mathieu Flamini, who bit Tottenham calves and made his presence felt.
Cazorla went close from two free-kicks in the early running; Walcott forced Lloris into a sprawling save and Ramsey lifted a glorious chance over the crossbar from Walcott’s clever ball. Tottenham hearts also raced went Walcott went clean through on 33 minutes and Lloris, outside his area, threw himself into a central defender’s sliding challenge. He got the ball. Had he not, the consequences would have been dire.
The onus was on Tottenham in the second half. They played higher up the field; they pushed and they probed. Villas-Boas’s team is not one to blow the bloody doors off, rather to remain patient and attempt to outmanoeuvre an opponent.
The manager shuffled his pack, bringing on Jermain Defoe for Mousa Dembele and, also, introducing Sandro and the new signing Erik Lamela on the right wing. Sandro replaced the stricken Etienne Capoue, who felt Cazorla fall on him when his leg was at a horrible angle.
Arsenal punched on the counter. Cazorla found Giroud, whose shot deflected and forced Lloris into a diving save; Giroud’s final ball was too heavy for Walcott, allowing the Tottenham goalkeeper to intervene and Walcott also forced Lloris into a late save. Monreal could not reach the rebound.
The home crowd grew tense. Tottenham only needed one chance. Defoe’s deflected shot in the 76th minute drew a save from Szczesny while Soldado’s rebound was charged down and Walker sliced at a presentable opening in injury-time. Tottenham, though, did not do enough.