Tuesday 21 November 2017

Devastating Gunners bring Sherwood down to earth

ARSENAL 2 TOTTENHAM 0

Thomas Rosicky scores Arsenal’s second goal against Tottenham Hotspur in their FA Cup third round tie at the Emirates Stadium yesterday.
Thomas Rosicky scores Arsenal’s second goal against Tottenham Hotspur in their FA Cup third round tie at the Emirates Stadium yesterday.

Dion Fanning

The FA Cup might not be as important as it was but beating Tottenham Hotspur will always have meaning for Arsenal.

For an hour, Arsenal -- supposedly vulnerable due to an injury crisis -- were devastating while Tottenham played as Tottenham can always play. If Tim Sherwood's brief was to restore traditional values to the club, he could claim that this was a quintessential performance. "They will let you down most times," Roy Keane said in the ITV studio. "We showed we belong on the same field as Arsenal," Sherwood said afterwards, although it was hard to know when exactly Spurs had shown this.

Arsenal were determined to stop the hope rising at White Hart Lane and in the first half, they swarmed over Spurs, dominating in midfield with Tomas Rosicky outstanding and Serge Gnabry on the right smart and direct.

They took the lead through a magnificent Santi Cazorla goal before Rosicky showed plenty of cunning to secure their place in the fourth round in the second half.

The victory at Old Trafford might have taken something out of Spurs but Sherwood wasn't sure. "It doesn't take any lifting to come and play at the Emirates if you're a Tottenham player but we were fatigued."

Arsenal's injuries and Tottenham's victory against United had given Sherwood reason to be hopeful. He made one change from that side but he encountered a more fundamental difference to the game against Manchester United: Arsenal had a midfield.

Sherwood had committed to 4-4-2 and it was tempting to believe that if Spurs had an extra man in midfield they might have, in his friend Jamie Redknapp's phrase, "popped it around a bit better".

Sherwood seemed to be grasping the essential contradictions of management, denying that Arsenal had outnumbered Spurs in midfield before adding "they outnumbered us in midfield, we outnumbered them out wide."

Yet it wasn't simply that Arsenal had more men in midfield, which was Sherwood's essential point, but that their men in midfield were better than Tottenham's. The numerical supremacy might have allowed them to demonstrate this but they were popping the ball around, breaking forward and allowing Theo Walcott to find space.

Walcott was up front, playing the role he cherishes, and the lack of discipline in Tottenham's midfield and the lumbering presence of Michael Dawson allowed him to believe he was born to it. "He was more decisive, with more fighting attitude," Wenger said afterwards.

Walcott benefitted from the swift counter-attacks and spent the first half shooting at Hugo Lloris from various distances, sometimes impressively, sometimes -- as when he sprung the offside trap but then drove the ball straight at the goalkeeper -- not so impressively.

Arsenal went on to dominate the game but Tottenham had the first chance when Laurent Koscielny's clearance ricocheted off Christian Eriksen, who then found himself through on goal. Lukasz Fabianski deflected Eriksen's near-post attempt out for a corner but the finish was unconvincing.

Cazorla's opening goal was a demonstration of Arsenal's incisiveness and Tottenham's flaws.

Bacary Sagna broke forward from halfway and played the ball to Gnabry, who moved in from the right and played a stunning pass that exploited the space Cazorla was in on the left. There was no hesitation from Cazorla, who drove the ball immediately with his left foot past Lloris.

Tottenham looked bewildered and instead tried to provoke Jack Wilshere with a series of heavy tackles, even if Wilshere showed no reluctance to engage with Mousa Dembele as they tangled.

It was the only thing that could excite the Tottenham fans, who had taken over one end of the ground, unless they counted a Roberto Soldado shot which never worried Fabianski after a typically breathless Kyle Walker advance.

Tottenham started the second half with some purpose and spent some time in the Arsenal half, winning some corners and finding positions from where Soldado could shoot wide.

Sherwood has shown a commendable commitment to attack since taking the Tottenham job, yet there was evidence that it was based on a need to keep the ball away from his defence.

Tottenham's attacking players weren't showing much commitment to attack. Emmanuel Adebayor appeared to be trying too hard, a state indistinguishable from when he's not trying hard enough. If he had connected instead of mis-kicked when he controlled the ball in the box then Tottenham would have had an equaliser.

Instead they committed an act of typical self-destruction. Danny Rose -- a Tottenham hero for a goal he scored against Arsenal three years ago -- illustrated his frailty as he tried to do too much on the halfway line and was robbed by Rosicky.

Rosicky might have been worn down by injuries but he managed to keep ahead of the chasing Walker, who couldn't get close enough to kick him until to do so would have given away a penalty.

By that stage, Rosicky wasn't going to miss and he lifted the ball over Lloris.

The game was over and Tottenham seemed to realise that. Walcott injured himself tracking back and when he made a 2-0 gesture to the Spurs fans as he was removed on a stretcher, a plastic bottle was thrown in his direction.

Walcott may face an FA charge but Wenger, with some justification, wondered how it could be considered offensive. "It does not even look aggressive, he's just smiling." Arsenal's medical staff who treated Walcott told Wenger that "coins had been raining down on him".

A manufactured outrage was all that was left, although Sherwood dismissed it as "just a bit of banter".

Arsenal were having their fun. "Tim Sherwood's a Gooner," their fans sang, in reference to suggestions he was a childhood fan. As Spurs chased the game, Sherwood remained on the sideline, demonstrating the passion that may well be part of his brief, appealing for a penalty when the ball bounced off Cazorla's hand and jumping up and down on the sideline.

After a while even that seemed too much as he realised Tottenham weren't going to respond to his clapping. Soon he stood on the sideline with his shoulders sagging and his passion spent.

Irish Independent

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