View From The North Bank: 5pur2
There was something strangely familiar about Saturday. The build up featured the now customary statement of intent from the Sp*rs party, tabloids suggested desperation within the club, yet ultimately, Arsenal handed out the now annual five goal thrashing to that mob up the road.
Admittedly, it can be a nervy occasion. Our form has been sketchy so we wouldn’t have gone into any game with total confidence, let alone one that has been so erratic over the years. Still, predictions of a power shift are, as they have been for the last five years at least, some way off the mark.
Sp*rs started the game well with their bold 4-4-2 asking us serious questions. Despite the fact they took the lead I maintained a level of confidence, partly because we know how this fixture swings to-and-fro but also because a reasoned analysis of the two teams hinted at potential dominance if only we could steady the nerves.
The pairing of Walcott against Naughton looked enticing. The potential for ball hoarding that Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla possessed looked even greater when faced with the ponderous duo of Huddlestone and Sandro; whose constant niggling at Wilshere should have landed him in serious trouble before the first half was out.
Another source of optimism for Arsenal was the inclusion of Adebayor. An extra attacker against our wobbling defence was a bold option for Villas-Boas but it missed the fact that much of our recent dip in form had been down to pressure placed on Arteta, the architect of our play. If the Tottenham gaffer had thumbed the pages of his coaches exercise book and arrived on the tactic of occupying Arteta with a slightly withdrawn Adebayor there was no evidence of it in the opening 17 minutes. In a game like this, Adebayor is a liability, he is not one to focus on performing a function for the team and was always likely to lose his head. Contrast that to our new striker, Olivier Giroud, who is selfless and does his all for the team. Chalk and cheese. And the big man is now up and running.
The red card handed us the initiative but the way that we turned the screw was fantastic. We didn’t take the cautious option of passing them into submission, looking for gaps as they tired, we went for the throat and reaped the reward. There has been plenty of “sterile domination” so far this season, yet faced with the opportunity to take advantage, it was heartening to see relentless pressure and a desire to impose ourselves on the game.
The equaliser was probably my highlight of the season so far. Walcott screwed his marker into the ground and lofted a delicious cross for Mertesacker to power home. There is something especially satisfying about seeing a header crashed into the top corner – as Sagna showed in February – but it was all the more enjoyable because of who it was. His celebration, right in front of the North Bank, demonstrated personal relief but also a great desire to force his team back into the game.
When viewing the highlights it was particularly irritating to hear Jonathan Pearce interpret the goal as an opportunity for the seasoned international to turn his Arsenal career around. This sort of superficial thinking has become common place on Match of the Day and irritates fans who have a greater knowledge of the game than this programme’s witless banter is capable of providing. Whilst he was obviously at fault for the goal, Mertesacker has been our best defender this season and such a misguided interpretation of events robbed him of the credit his performances deserve (if of course people actually listen to ‘JP’ or take any notice of what comes out his pissflaps).
Cazorla and Walcott also deserve credit for their performances yet it would be unfair not to mention those around them. Cazorla was given the freedom to dictate play as Arteta and Wilshere prompted from deeper positions. Walcott took advantage of a suspect fullback, but the relentless overlapping of Sagna helped mount pressure.
As we have seen so many times before, one result on its own means nothing and there is a real need now to use this as a spring board, as we did last season. There were still question marks over some of our defensive play on Saturday and the result shouldn’t mask that. The first goal could be prevented if the team were a little more relaxed and drilled to work as a unit whilst the second was as much the product of a lack of concentration as it was out and out poor defensive play. We don’t have long until our next game but you’d hope some of that would be used to work towards regaining the shape that we looked to be developing in the opening few games of the season.
Whilst there is a long way left to go and further strides to be taken in our development as a team, results like this will do us no harm whatsoever – and it’s great fun sticking it to them for the second time in 2012. Another win in midweek will set us up nicely for a couple of tricky away games. Whilst we’re often reported to be only a couple of games away from crisis, it’s probably just as fair to say that we’re only the same distance away from rejuvenating our season.
Keep The Faith.