Before Michael Oliver blew on his whistle to begin this match, all the talk was about yet another power shift in North London. A signal, much like many before, that our neighbours were ready to wrestle the power away from Arsenal for the first time in decades.
Well, you can’t blame the assorted experts, pundits and journalists for thinking that the Gunners days were numbered. No wins in four games, repeated insipid displays and players so woefully off-colour that they looked lost on the pitch.
This game saw the return of Arsenal’s belief and hunger.
Two key ingredients for success, but strangely enough, they have been absent at a time when Arsenal needed them most. They returned at the most important time, but even though this can be seen as an important point and a reminder that Arsenal aren’t yet to be consigned to another Champions League spot scuffle – it is also two points dropped in the title race which sees Leicester City open up an eight point lead over us.
With David Ospina taking the spot of the injured Petr Cech, Gibbs in for Nacho Monreal, Welbeck in for the goal-starved Olivier Giroud, Mohamed Elneny making his first Premier League start and Gabriel alongside Per Mertesacker – Arsenal had more than poor form to contend with. This unfamiliar line-up surely would be a hindrance to the cohesion which is so vital to Arsenal’s style of play?
From the first minute, the pace of the game was frenetic. Pressing from both sides, no time on the ball and full-blooded challenges flying in regularly set the tone of the match, which didn’t let up. Chances though, were at a premium.
Tottenham had the edge in the early exchanges, with Danny Rose finding plenty of space out wide as Aaron Ramsey seemed to be drawn centrally, leaving Rose the freedom to pump balls into the Arsenal box. It was Erik Lamela who drew the first meaningful save from David Ospina though, as he shinned the ball toward goal and an instinctive save from the Colombian kept parity in scoreline.
The match was even and scrappy, but there was plenty of entertainment on show as both teams were full of intent and passion. tottenham always looked dangerous, but it was so refreshing to see the Gunners putting in a real shift and elevating the pace of the game when necessary.
Arsenal took the lead through a much maligned figure in Aaron Ramsey, and what a goal it was. The Welshman has been a tad irresponsible in his central midfield duties of late, but being placed back out on the right of an attacking midfield brings out the best in Ramsey, and this was one of his best.
The industrious Danny Welbeck was sent scampering down the right of the box and he showed composure to put his foot on the ball and wait for runners, instead of simply pumping in an aimless ball. He spotted the onrushing Bellerin and he found him, with the young Spaniard fizzing in a pass/shot, which was straight at the lurking Ramsey. Ramsey then adapted his body and feet, and back-flicked the awkwardly placed ball high past the sprawling Hugo Lloris. It was a pearler.
Arsenal seemed to revitalise before our eyes with the goal, and the confidence began to flow. Unfortunately though, Michael Oliver blew for half time and Arsenal were a goal up. More than anyone could have hoped for, although many were wary for Francis Coquelin, who was booked for handball and may just be at risk for a second booking…..
The second half started as the first ended, with the Gunners on the front foot. Spurs crafted the first real chance though, from a corner which Harry Kane took the ball at the back post and fired it in. David Ospina again though, pulled out a save which kept his side in the lead. Then, the game changer occurred.
Coquelin – already booked – went to ground in a vain attempt to tackle Harry Kane. Oliver had no choice but to book him and he walked, leaving Arsenal a man down and a game on its head.
Tottenham smelled blood, and within five minutes, they were level. Again a corner was the root of our ills, but this time it was Toby Alderweireld who was at the back post, and his shot found the net.
Then, a mere two minutes later, Arsenal’s capitulation was complete. Per Mertesacker should have ushered the ball out of play, but allowed Delle Ali to gain the ball and give it to Harry Kane, who was out wide, but he curled a shot past David Ospina and the goal merited the lead.
The next ten or fifteen minutes was all spurs as Arsenal struggled to reshape, but the defence held firm. A moment of contention when the previously booked Erik Dier blatantly pulled back substitute Olivier Giroud could have proved to have been costly, but thanks to Alexis Sanchez, it was soon forgotten.
Hector Bellerin played a smooth ball along the deck ahead of Alexis and he ran onto it under pressure from two spurs men. He sidefooted it towards the far corner and although Lloris got a hand to it, he couldn’t stop the equaliser. The joy was clear on Sanchez’s face and it was the least we deserved. We could have even got the winner, but Aaron Ramsey was denied miliseconds before he pulled the trigger in the box.
So many positives to take from this game as opposed to recent fixtures, and Gooners will hope once more that the positive run begins here. Mohamed Elneny was excellent in the centre, the mistake for spurs second goal aside Mertesacker was imperious, Ramsey showed improvement and Ospina showed his pedigree, but the main difference in this game was Arsenal’s desire.
Too many times wehen we are on the back foot, we have insisted on playing out from the back, and fallen foul of it. This game though, Arsenal cleared effectively time and again and allowed themselves vital seconds to push out. It seems so simple, but it worked far better than previous plans!
Although the league leaders stretch their lead to eight points, Arsenal have something to stick their teeth into now. Something to act as a foundation and boost confidence. Ozil may have been anonymous for large parts of the game as he dropped ever deeper in search of possession, and we still await goals for our strikers on the bench, but Gooners will have seen a completely different team from last week. An improvement was vastly required though!
The run in gets shorter, and the top of the league is just that little bit further away, but Arsenal will just be glad to have ended a horrible run and can look to the next game with a more positive frame of mind. Let us hope that this begins the run where we can rein in and overtake our opponents from this game.