Monday, November 9, 2015

Gibbs rescues recovering Gunners

After losing 5-1 to Bayern Munich, a huge game like the North London derby wouldn’t have been high on the list of options if Arsene Wenger was able to choose the following match. With numerous players still out with injuries, Arsenal stuttered and struggled for fluency at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, and at 1-0 down with no real attacking options on the bench, things were looking a bit grim. That was until Kieran Gibbs emerged as the unlikely hero, rescuing a point with an equaliser.
I’m sure Arsenal will be honest with themselves and admit that the performance wasn’t good. I don’t think it was for a lack of effort, and some of the challenges from Coquelin and Flamini were pretty meaty, but Tottenham played well and Gunners looked slightly anxious at times, with the the midweek thrashing still in the back of the players’ minds. That Arsenal were wounded (mentally and physically as a team with the lack of options) and still found the resources to fightback and almost win the game is to the players’ credit and demonstrated the determination of this team to really go for the Premier League this season. 
I’ve got the impression that a lot of pundits and writers about the game have been a bit over-the-top in proclaiming that the 1-1 draw was evidence of Tottenham closing the gap on the Gunners in North London. There’s no doubting that Spurs played well on Sunday and have had a solid start to the season with just the one defeat in the league, but it seems like people have forgotten the good start Arsenal have made to the season. This was a team on Sunday without several key components and others who looked fatigued because of not getting a break due to limited options. I think it says a lot that Spurs played so well and Arsenal played poorly, yet the Gunners scrapped out a draw and created a few big chances with Giroud hitting the bar and heading inches wide to have possibly won the game.
Arsenal’s main problems came from Tottenham pressuring the Gunners high up the pitch, as Bayern Munich had done in the previous midweek. With Santi Cazorla suffering from a mysterious illness, and he really did look unwell in that first half, Arsenal’s options were limited when passing the ball out from the back four. Spurs were also able to play a high defensive line because of Olivier Giroud not offering the pace threat up front for Arsenal. Had one of Walcott, Welbeck or Oxlade-Chamberlain been available, it could have been a different story. That’s not a criticism of Olivier Giroud, the style of opposition just didn’t suit his style of game.
Tottenham deservedly took the lead on the basis of Arsenal not creating chances themselves in the first half. Laurent Koscielny made a mistake trying to play offside and got punished. The Gunners also relied on Petr Cech to keep the score down.
There was a frantic period in the second half where the play was intense, and felt like a full-blooded derby but neither team was able to exert much control on proceedings. Without much happening from open play, Arsenal looked most dangerous from set-pieces as Mesut Ozil produced some excellent deliveries into the box. An in-form Olivier Giroud was unlucky to hit the bar following a free-kick but he should have scored from six yards out following a corner.
Mesut Ozil, despite getting harried and put under a lot of pressure when he was on the ball, stood out again as the man most likely to make something happen for the Gunners. Whereas these sorts of matches, especially when there wasn’t much going on around him in the team, have bypassed the German in the past. It was a sign of growing confidence in the league that he looked determined to be the one to make the difference. Sure enough, it was his superb deep cross that gave substitute Kieran Gibbs the opportunity to force the ball over the line and past Hugo Lloris for the equaliser.
There was a bit of bemusement when Gibbs came on for Joel Campbell with Arsenal chasing the game, but Arsene Wenger didn’t really have any other options to change things around. It is to Gibbs’ immense credit that he got into the position at the back post to meet Ozil’s cross and get the ball into the net almost through a sheer force of will.
That summed up how Arsenal got the draw. Things weren’t going right for them, they were recovering from a midweek pasting and there were loads of players injured, but they were just not going to lose the game, however well Spurs might have played. That bloody mindedness will serve Arsenal well in the rest of the season and gives me hope that this team is meant of stern stuff.
Arsenal are still in recovery mode, so the international break comes at a decent time for the Gunners, providing those going away to play for their countries return unscathed. It was frustrating to see Arsenal not find top form in the derby and go to the top of the table outright, but at the moment it feels more like a point won than two points lost. Besides, Arsenal have still won more North London derbies than Tottenham this year (cheers Flam!).