Thursday 27 July 2017

Nasri's cool head helps Gunners cruise past Tottenham

Tottenham 1
Arsenal 4
(After extra-time)

Robbie Keane celebrates scoring for Tottenham Hotspur against Arsenal in the third round Carling Cup match at White Hart Lane last night – Arsenal won the game 4-1 after extra time. Photo: PA
Robbie Keane celebrates scoring for Tottenham Hotspur against Arsenal in the third round Carling Cup match at White Hart Lane last night – Arsenal won the game 4-1 after extra time. Photo: PA

Henry Winter

Arsene Wenger rarely gets a good reception at White Hart Lane and even his mobile phone failed last night -- but his players got the message.

Raising their game in extra-time, Arsenal precluded the need for penalties to decide this Carling Cup tie with two of the coolest spot-kicks from Samir Nasri.

Wenger had been banished to the stands, following his decision to accept the FA's sanction for touching referee Martin Atkinson.

As Henri Lansbury scored and Jack Wilshere dominated the first half, the Arsenal manager had little need to communicate with his bench.

But down below Harry Redknapp was plotting a recovery mission. The Spurs manager introduced Robbie Keane at half-time and the Dubliner promptly levelled, although Lukasz Fabianski was badly at fault.

Wenger became increasingly anxious and, failing to get a signal on his phone, despatched his assistant Boro Primorac down to the tunnel where messages were relayed to Pat Rice on the bench. Arsenal improved, forcing two quick penalties during the first period of extra time.

First Sebastian Bassong brought down Nasri, allowing the French international to put Arsenal ahead from the spot. Lightning struck twice. Steven Caulker then tugged back Chamakh and Nasri, changing direction, placed his kick coolly to Stipe Pletikosa's left.

When Andrei Arshavin then drilled in a fourth, Wenger could relax.

Wenger had elected to take his suspension and his seat in the directors' box, sitting back and admiring the way Wilshere and Co took total control of the first half, scoring early.

How they turned round only a goal to the good was a mystery, although a poor call by the linesman denied Kieran Gibbs a one-on-one with Stipe Pletikosa.

How they regretted that iniquity when Spurs, brilliantly rejigged by Redknapp with Keane and Aaron Lennon arriving, equalised shortly after the restart through Keane. Again, Arsenal were left fuming by a linesman.

Glittering

Until then, Arsenal had been in charge. Their solitary goal of a one-sided half was still a glittering gem, the ball flowing between Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky and Wilshere, whose hard and low cross was turned in by Lansbury.

The speed of Arsenal's movement and the quality of the passing, much of it first-time, was so devastating that Spurs defenders were turned to stone. Angela Lansbury could have scored.

Arsenal were in charge. Wilshere and Denilson worked hard in the engine room, shielding the back-four. The young Englishman, the ball seemingly glued to that dextrous left foot, constantly found time to break upfield.

Wilshere was immense, revealing the strengthening of his game under Owen Coyle's tutelage at Bolton Wanderers twice in the 38th minute.

First he tracked back to force Jake Livermore to concede possession and then harried the Spurs midfielder into giving up the ball again. There is a fearlessness to Wilshere, a desire to run the game that bodes well for Arsenal and England. Only when Redknapp changed his team, particularly moving Wilson Palacios closer to Sandro, was the space closed down around Wilshere.

Until then, Spurs were chasing shadows, their starting system of 4-1-3-1-1 painfully failing to click. Sandro, the new Brazilian, anchored midfield while Giovani dos Santos roamed aimlessly in the hole behind Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Sandro displayed some neat touches, including a chested pass to Pavlyuchenko before demonstrating a physical side with a poleaxing of Wilshere.

Overjoyed by the goal and Wilshere's first-half prominence, Arsenal fans ran through the songbook, treating their old player, David Bentley, to some fairly caustic lyrics. Bentley, stationed on the left, sought to drag Spurs back into contention. Cutting in from the flank, he ignored Giovani and Pavlyuchenko, much to their annoyance. He then let fly, his shot disappearing well wide.

Arsenal still pressed, Rosicky seeing a shot deflected wide. Back came Spurs in an absorbing tie, Palacios finding Pavlyuchenko, whose effort raced just wide.

As Spurs departed to a flurry of boos at the break, Redknapp made his move. Giovani and Livermore were hooked, Keane and Aaron Lennon sped on.

Lennon immediately started stretching Arsenal down the right but it was Keane who had the most impact. Kyle Naughton moved in from the right, teasing the ball into Keane, who looked just offside.

Keane darted on and shot goalwards, slightly half-heartedly as if awaiting a raised flag. The Irishman's strike lacked real venom and Lukasz Fabianski should have done far better. Throwing himself to his left, Arsenal's keeper failed to tame the ball and it squirmed almost embarrassed over the line.

Greater conviction flooded through Spurs. Keane was everywhere in the final third, even dropping back to hound Denilson. Sandro also impressed until hobbling away with a hamstring problem.

Spurs were a different team, now brimming with menace. Lennon then accelerated clear and only Laurent Koscielny's agility quelled the danger.

Wenger got a message down to Rice and the big Gunners, Marouane Chamakh and Arshavin, after 72 minutes. Chamakh almost scored immediately, heading Gibbs' cross just wide.

The game was opening up, the pace of Lennon proving an outlet for Spurs.

Keane was superb, his buzzing movement bringing a foul from Koscielny and a free-kick for Bentley 25 yards out. His effort cleared the wall but failed to elude Fabianski, although there were sighs of relief from the Arsenal contingent as the Polish 'keeper managed to hold on to the ball.

Arsenal were getting ragged and Lansbury was cautioned for clattering Sandro. But then came extra-time. Then came Nasri twice and Arshavin.

Wenger was a king in exile. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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