The Gunners showed great defensive resilience on Sunday to edge Tottenham 1-0. It wasn’t a pretty match but the result means they get back in the Premiership title race despite a weakened squad.
For the first time this year, Wenger had a depleted midfield with Ramsey still recovering from a thigh injury and Wilshere and Ozil not returning before mid-April. The manager opted for a balanced formation with Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla in midfield and Podolski and Rosicky on the wings. A lot of managers would have swapped the positions of Rosicky and Chambo, but Wenger’s move quickly paid off.
Chambo held off a challenge from Sandro in the second minute to release Rosicky down the right flank. Rosicky played the ball back to Chambo, who was let down by a poor first touch and inadvertently sent the ball into Rosicky’s path. From a tight angle, the Czech midfielder fired a thunder strike into the top corner for the opener. That was pure instinct. Nine times out of ten, you miss the target in those situations. That’s why players usually control the ball. But on Sunday, Rosicky preferred to trust his gut.
Rosicky’s understanding with Chambo
That early goal changed the face of the match. Arsenal started playing a low defensive line and let the Spurs dominate possession, hoping to hurt them on the fast break. I thought Giroud was not the right centerforward for that kind of approach because of his lack of pace. The Frenchman was offside a couple of times in the first half and made numerous turnovers in the second half.
Rosicky and Chambo developed on Sunday a great understanding that was at the origin of most of our chances. The Gunners should have doubled the lead in the 15th when Rosicky found Chambo in midfield. The England international outpaced Bentaleb to be clean through on goal but sent his chip wide from the edge of the box. Chambo made the right decision but the execution was poor. Podolski was not happy that Chambo ignored him, but the German winger didn’t realize that two Spurs were cutting the passing channel.
Chambo wasted two more chances. Podolski took a pass from Cazorla in the 27th but sent his cutback behind Rosicky. Chambo managed to connect with the loose ball but shot wide from the edge of the box. Four minutes before halftime, Rosicky outmuscled Rose to square the ball back to Chambo, who fired over the bar from 18 yards.
There are times when Chambo will miss a lot and times when he’ll be clinical like in the 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Inconsistency is the privilege of youth. Chambo is just 20 and he’ll need a bit of patience and a lot of hard work to get closer to the finished product. Remember, Ramsey only found his shooting boots this season. Ramsey is just three years older than Chambo but there’s a significant gap between these two players. Ramsey has already played 122 matches in six Premiership seasons while Chambo played on Sunday his 50th game in the top division.
While it will take time for Chambo to improve his finishing, I think in the short term he must focus on cutting his turnover rate. In the first half, he lost possession because of poor ball retention skills. In the second half, he attempted long passes that went nowhere. Of course, you don’t want him to play with fear. But turnovers in midfield can cost you goals. If Chambo attempts to dribble past an opponent, that must be in the final third, not near his own area.
Left flank in trouble
Tottenham put the Gunners under pressure with some good work from Naughton and Townsend on our left flank. Gibbs was not completely sharp in his return from injury while Podolski was often lax in his marking. The German winger did very little on Sunday besides outpacing Kaboul in the 36th to fire into the side-netting. Podolski is having a disappointing season with just three league goals so far. Townsend skipped past Chambo in the 19th but shot wide from a tight angle. Then Naughton overlapped with Townsend in the 28th to make a cross for Adebayor. The Togo striker beat Mertesacker to the ball but flicked wide.
A lot of Arsenal fans despise Adebayor because he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of them a goal for Manchester City in 2009. On Sunday, he proved a handful for the Arsenal defense. Adebayor ghosted past Koscielny in the fifth minute but failed to trap a ball over the top from Sandro. He definitely had more impact offensively than Giroud at White Hart Lane.
The biggest threat in the first half came from Sagna’s yellow card in the 22nd for a late tackle on Rose. The Tottenham leftback tried to get Sagna sent off a couple of times. That included a dive inside the area on the stroke of halftime. But the referee did not fall into Rose’s trap.
The Spurs dominated the second half. Arsenal’s slim chances came from set pieces. Vertonghen received a yellow card for a studs-up tackle on Cazorla in the 77th. On the ensuing free kick, the Belgium defender pulled Koscielny inside the box. But the referee and the linesmen failed to spot the foul. A minute later, the Tottenham defense failed to clear a Cazorla free kick and Mertesacker forced Lloris to make a diving save with a close-range effort.
Blunders from Szczesny gave the hosts the opportunity to level in the 48th. The Poland goalkeeper ran 15 yards away from his line to catch a long ball from Naughton in the 48th. Szczesny beat Adebayor to the ball but spilled it. He was lucky to have Sagna nearby for a clearance. A few seconds later, Naughton tested Szczesny with another cross. No Spur challenged Szczesny in the air but our goalkeeper still made a handling mistake. The ball fell to Chadli, who rounded Mertesacker but had his goal attempt blocked by Koscielny.
Shutting Tottenham out
The Gunners were clearly in trouble on their left flank. However, the manager still made no tactical adjustment. Chadli connected with a cross from Townsend in the 52nd but missed the target with his backheel flick. Adebayor then outjumped Koscielny in the 64th but headed the ball wide. Ozil’s ball retention skills were badly missed in the second half.
Wenger tightened Arsenal’s grip on the victory by replacing Rosicky with Flamini in the 69th, Podolski with Monreal in the 77th and Chambo with Vermaelen in the 85th. We basically finished the match with three centerbacks and three defensive midfielders. Deprived of any decent service, Adebayor dropped back in the 89th and curled a shot from the edge of the box that lacked power to beat Szczesny.
A weakened and tired squad
The Gunners are back in the title race, trailing Chelsea by four points but with a game in hand. However, they are not the favorites. Liverpool and Manchester City are eliminated from every Cup competition and can focus on the Premier League while Arsenal still has one or two FA Cup games to play.
Another worry is our weakened squad. We will miss Wilshere and Ozil for the tough matches against Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. Ramsey may be back for the game at Stamford Bridge next Saturday but he won’t be sharp. By contrast, our three rivals have no key player sidelined by a long-term injury.
Our defensive performance on Sunday was outstanding. But it’s not a good sign when a team decides to protect its lead after just two minutes, especially since Arsenal enjoyed two more days of rest than Tottenham, which lost to Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday. Unconsciously, that means the Gunners are feeling tired.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com