Monday, March 17, 2014

Rosicky rockets Arsenal back into contention

It had been over two weeks since Arsenal had played a league game when they walked out at a White Hart Lane on Sunday, and in that time Chelsea had pulled away then been pegged back, plus Liverpool and Manchester City had gained more points, so the pressure was on to stay in the title hunt. This was also the Gunners’ first league game since the horror show at Stoke, so another defeat could have continued the slide away from the title race.
Just to top it off, regardless of any league position and any other circumstances, this was a North London derby. This mattered.
It might not have been the most fluent performance from Arsenal, but try and find a Gooner who cares. The 1-0 win completed a North London derby hat-trick this season. Played 3. Won 3. Scored 4. (Most impressively) Conceded 0.
The winning goal came early as Arsenal exposed Tottenham on the counter-attack. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlaim broke out with Tomas Rosicky down the right with Spurs full-back Danny Rose caught upfield. On receiving the ball near the box, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s touch wasn’t as planned, but that merely set it into the path of Rosicky on the right edge of the box. The Czech didn’t think twice as he unleashed a rocket into the top corner. Just as momentum was about to be lost in the move, Rosicky stepped in and sent the travelling fans wild. As with Podolski’s goal in Munich, this strike was beautiful in its ferocity.
It was a goal that will go down in North London derby folklore.
Despite not dominating possession, Arsenal then had chances to kill the game on the break, and on another day could have had more goals. Oxlade-Chamberlain was guilty of the worse miss, but the Gunners kept looking dangerous on the counter. Initially, on seeing the team selection, I thought Arsenal would really attack Spurs with Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski and the Ox all starting. Instead, it turned out to be a great counter-attacking team, with Wenger judging well how the game would pan out.
Gradually the game turned into more of a defensive show from Arsenal. I’ve written many times this season about how highly I rate the Mertesacker and Koscielny partnership, and once again they excelled in the derby. Emmanuel Adebayor asked plenty of questions, but the two centre backs had all the right answers. Everyone in the team stayed focused defensively, bar two crazy moments from Wojciech Szczesny in quick succession where he almost presented Chadli with a goal after dropping the ball. However, the BFG and Koscielny were quick to react, kept their position well and were able to bail out the goalkeeper by blocking Chadli’s shot.
The game was reminiscent of a lot of matches in last season’s run-in, with Arsenal content with a 1-0 lead knowing they had the defensive capacity to hold out the opposition. Arsene Wenger was able to introduce Flamini, Monreal and Vermaelen to take the sting out the game and relatively comfortably see out the win.
The attacking performance wasn’t always fluid, but it’s only the result that matters in the derby. After staying calm during the 90 minutes, the Arsenal players let emotions out at the final whistle. This team know how important this game is to the fans, and it adds to the feeling of togetherness around the club. I loved Podolski climbing into the stand, the BFG leading the team over to the fans and the Szczesny selfie with the supporters in the background.
After fears that the league was slipping away from Arsenal, the season gets very interesting now. Whilst Chelsea have a midweek Champions League tie to negotiate, Arsenal can relax before getting psyched up for another huge London derby. The confidence from winning all North London derbies this season will only help with the preparation this week, knowing a win would move Arsenal further up in the title reckoning.