Theo Walcott was silly, depending on who you ask; the Tottenham supporters in that part of the ground looked petty and over precious. But somewhere away from that mess of an over publicised non-story, a football match was being played.
Tottenham would have been right to go into this derby tie with a degree of confidence. They’re not too far removed from beating Manchester United at Old Trafford for the second successive season. Moreover, with games such as this, the form book can often go out the window; so it didn’t really matter that Arsenal were five places above them and top of the Premier League. Those who were hoping for an Arsenal meltdown of some sort would also have been banking on another big showing from Emmanuel Adebayor.
Against Tottenham’s two out-and-out centre-forwards, Arsene Wenger had little choice but to place faith in Theo Walcott and deploy the England winger through the middle. Any concerns were quickly alleviated as Walcott brought a level of incision and directness that is often lacking in Olivier Giroud’s game. All the major talking points that Thierry Henry brought to the fore about Giroud was put on display by the man now wearing the number 14 shirt.
But it wasn’t just Walcott’s high-class performance, which will certainly give Wenger something to think about long term. It was the entire team.
It helped that Tim Sherwood was tactically naïve. 4-4-2, despite him declaring with utmost confidence that his formation was anything but, can be suicidal when playing against a team who are so focused on retaining the ball. Especially at home. Granted injuries were an issue, but the Tottenham manager still had the personnel to go with five in the midfield and attempt to stop Arsenal dominating the middle of the park. You get the sense that Sherwood, still extremely green in the world of football management, simply went with what brought him results in the past.
Wenger, in the opposing dugout, was benefitting from the familiarity his players shared with one another. Tottenham could go nowhere near to matching the Arsenal players’ quickness of thought. It simply looked as though Arsenal knew what to do with the ball when they had it, and whoever was in possession had the personnel around him to properly execute his thinking.
Take Serge Gnabry, who was excellent. His darting run across the front of Tottenham’s defence was greatly aided by Walcott’s run in the opposite direction, in turn creating space for the young German. Gnabry then went on to set up Santi Cazorla for a stunning opener. Take nothing away from the pass. Gnabry, 18, could have got it wrong and wasted the opportunity.
Wenger has shown himself to be in a position where he can make changes, either for tactical purposes – as with Walcott at centre-forward – or in relying on a youngster when injuries or upcoming fixtures forces his hand. There is consistency in the Arsenal team, something which Spurs are lacking.
Far from saying Arsenal played Tottenham off the park, there was a clear gulf in class. Arsenal themselves never really hit top gear, as how could they with names such as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud out of the squad and Mesut Ozil only making a brief appearance towards the end. The result, however, was telling of the unity of the Arsenal team to overcome stern tests. While Tottenham could have performed better than they did, Arsenal were never in danger of shooting themselves in the foot, even when down to 10 men after Walcott’s injury.
The collective performance of the Arsenal team also shows that despite recent results for both sides, there is still a lot of ground for Tottenham to make up if they’re going to bridge the gap.