Monday 19 February 2018

Cazorla's magic too hot to handle for 10-man Spurs

Arsenal 5
Tottenham 2

Henry Winter

Such was the quality of Santi Cazorla's display in the north London derby that his Arsenal team-mate Jack Wilshere joked afterwards that maybe his nickname "should be Messi".

Cazorla was exceptional, plucking the ball out of the air, spiriting it around the pitch, creating and scoring. "He was different class,'' said Wilshere.

"He is a dream to play with. He never gives the ball away. There was one point when there were three players around him and he just dribbled out of it. That is up there with the best. I'll have to watch it again to learn a few things off him. He is a different player to Cesc (Fabregas). Cesc is more of a passer. With Santi he can pick the ball up, beat people. He has a great shot."

Yet until Cazorla was sent flying by a dangerous challenge by Emmanuel Adebayor, Arsenal struggled. There had to be sympathy for Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas. He had trusted in Adebayor, being bold and pairing him with Jermain Defoe in a 4-4-2 system and Adebayor soon scored. The tactics were right, the pair taking it in turns to drop off and stifle the space around Mikel Arteta. The mood was also right, the hunger embodied by Sandro.

Then Adebayor took leave of the ground and his senses, leaving Howard Webb no choice but to send him off. "He deserved the red card," acknowledged Villas-Boas.

Adebayor expressed some contrition via the Spurs website. "All the people who know me know I'm not a player who will tackle to hurt someone," he said. "I tackled for the ball, it was 50-50 and unfortunately, Cazorla touched the ball before me and there was contact between him and myself, that's for sure."

Even taking into account his presence on the red side of the tribal divide, Wilshere summed up it up best. "It was a high tackle,'' said the midfielder. "It was pointless really. He didn't have to do it because it was in his own half. It was a turning point."

Spurs actually performed relatively well in adversity. Villas-Boas' claim that they "controlled'' the game from first minute to last was an exaggeration, a statement designed to show support for his drained players. Having been accused of being too cold and detached at Chelsea, Villas-Boas is careful not to criticise players now, even the hot-headed Adebayor.

The likes of Jan Vertonghen and Sandro, Michael Dawson and Tom Carroll when they arrived, fought hard against the inevitable. But down to 10, against a passing side like Arsenal, it was simply a case of when rather than if, and of how many. Arsenal equalised when Per Mertesacker headed in Theo Walcott's fine cross. Then Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud scored. Each goal amplified Adebayor's folly. Spurs' pain continued after the break with Cazorla swooping.

The visitors, commendably, refused to go meekly and Gareth Bale struck a defiant note. But the mountain was too steep and Walcott led Arsenal over the horizon with a fifth after good work by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

If a proper appraisal of Villas-Boas must wait until Moussa Dembele returns to restore greater dynamism to midfield, then there was no denying that Saturday provided a much-needed adrenalin shot for Arsenal. Even if they still looked fragile mentally at times, Arsenal will take confidence from further signs that Giroud looks an able, goalscoring target-man, from Cazorla's excellence and another good shift from Laurent Koscielny.

Walcott again impressed. His goal came from playing through the centre but he also shone out wide.

"That means he can play both positions," said Wenger. "You have situations where the goalkeeper kicks the ball out and Giroud flicks the ball on or controls it on his chest – things Theo will not be capable of doing. He is a different type of player but he can play up front, and he can play up front with Giroud as well."

Walcott should be around for the rest of the season. Wenger insisted that the player will not be sold in January even if he has failed to agree a new contract. Wilshere wants Walcott to stay. Typically exuberant, Wilshere also hailed a derby win with ramifications beyond north London.

"It was massive, for the fans as well, to get the momentum going before Wednesday,'' said Wilshere of the Champions League date with Montpellier.

"We need to win."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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