Arsenal 5 Spurs 2
I’m glad I don’t bet on Arsenal. When you expect them to step up against Milan they shrink away and collapse. When you think there will be a reaction to that horror show they produce an insipid performance and slip out of the cup. And when you fear things will only go from bad to worse against an in-form Spurs… they produce their best display of the season and steam-roller their way to victory.
Oh, how Spurs must have thought the points were in the bag at 2-0. Our defence had produced heart-in-the -mouth moments whenever it was called into action and, although we’d looked threatening going forwards, it seemed to be because we were committing all 11 players over the half-way line judging by how vulnerable we looked on the counter.
No-one would have been surprised if we’d completely collapsed at that stage but instead the pace went up higher, the effort pushed further and Spurs (justifiably the third best team in the land, remember) couldn’t cope. Sagna’s header was the least we deserved and Robin’s equaliser capped a mini-comeback with pure class.
So often in these situations it is us on the receiving end of a turnaround score and switches in personnel that exploit our weaknesses further. But half-time brought changes by Redknapp to flood the midfield which rather than stemming the tide just handed even more of the initiative to us.
Any fear the break would disrupt our rhythm were groundless and we picked up where we left off, Rosicky’s goal just rewards for a brilliant performance. Cue Theo. In some ways he typifies the scizophrenic nature of this team. At times he looked truly awful – at one stage he seemed to sub-consciously accept his pass would inevitably land where it shouldn’t so he just saved everyone the effort and kicked it a yard to a group of three Spurs players.
And yet then he comes up with a cool and calm finish for the fourth – even managing to recover his own mis-control in the same movement – and capped another slick counter attack with his second and our fifth.
When I saw the starting line up I was surprised to see Theo start rather than the Ox or Gervinho and in his post-match comments Wenger acknowledged the grief Walcott was getting from the crowd. But credit to the manager for sticking with him and Theo himself for rising above the criticism to deliver the goods when it mattered most.
More of the same, please...
Overall this was far better than I hoped for even in my most optimistic daydreams. The poor early defending aside (let’s be generous and put that down to Koscielny finding his feet after injury and Vermaelen re-adjusting to his normal position), we were tenacious and determined, the movement in attack was far greater than we’ve come to expect and we closed the game down well. A three-goal cushion helps in that regard but we’ve let bigger winning margins slip before.
Despite my glee at the result, part of me can’t help but wonder why this level of performance is the exception rather than the rule. You can’t put it down to rising to the occasion considering we’ve floundered on big stages already this year. Wenger supposedly threw his nut at the training ground before last weekend’s loss so it wasn’t a response to that and it certainly isn’t because we’re in confident mood. Maybe it was just the sunshine and the lush playing surface.
Whatever, we’ve now got 12 league games remaining and need to use this performance as the benchmark for what this team can produce when it puts its mind to it. Let’s try to leave the questions about the fundamental flaws of the squad and set-up until the end of the season when we can really do something about it. Now we just need to repeat the level of commitment, effort and will-to-win shown today until the final whistle blows on the campaign. Doing that will earn us a Champions League position.