Monday, 2 September 2013

Arsenal 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0 -

The sight of promising but unproven talents like Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem and Yaya Sanogo on his bench on the afternoon confirmed that.

In Wenger's favour was the basic stability of his raw starting XI who have lost only one game since March.

Tottenham, by contrast, are facing up to life without Bale in the knowledge that, although they have added quantity, their talisman and match-winner has gone.

Villas-Boas will surely be conscious of the fact that Spurs have yet to score in open play during 360 minutes of Premier League football this season.

Despite all the upheaval this summer, Villas-Boas was at least able to name an unchanged team. It meant Étienne Capoue, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli all started, with Erik Lamela, the latest record signing, among the substitutes.

Having dominated possession against Swansea, the size and physical strength of Capoue and Paulinho suddenly looked a disadvantage against Arsenal.

Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky were quickly into their stride and fluent with their passing and thinking. Fouls by Capoue on Rosicky and then Mousa Dembélé on Walcott provided free-kicks on the edge of the penalty area for Cazorla, whose second effort flashed only inches past Hugo Lloris's post.

With Walcott and Kieran Gibbs providing pace on either flank, Arsenal were especially threatening on the counter-attack and a deserved lead duly arrived in the 23rd minute.

The move had begun with Per Mertesacker dispossessing Roberto Soldado on the edge of his own penalty area. A blur of slick passing followed and, approximately five seconds later, the ball was in Spurs' net.

To briefly rewind, Wilshere had fed Rosicky who, in turn, had split Tottenham's defence for Walcott.

He then rolled the ball across the six-yard box, with Olivier Giroud sprinting in front of Michael Dawson to finish with the outside of his left foot.

Arsenal did not sit back to preserve their lead and could very easily have put the game beyond Tottenham by half-time.

With Ramsey again incisive with his passing, Walcott was given another sight of goal and forced a save from Hugo Lloris. Roles were then reversed minutes later, with Walcott teeing up Ramsey, but he shot over.

Walcott's pace was a constant problem for Tottenham and a combination of a slightly miss-hit first touch and Lloris's quick thinking stopped him extending the lead.

Although Arsenal had been more incisive, Tottenham were not without their first-half chances and Andros Townsend's confidence was also evident when he cut inside to force two saves from Wojciech Szczesny. Although the service was restricted and his own movement was limited, Soldado did also test.

Arsenal's rhythm was then disrupted by the loss of Wilshere, with Tottenham dominant in possession throughout the second half but ­unable to create clear chances.

Flamini was the midfield replacement for Wilshere and, while Arsenal's fluency was compromised, their fighting spirit certainly was not. His first contribution was to upend Danny Rose with a two-footed challenge that, on another day, might have resulted in more than just a booking.

Laurent Koscielny was also grateful for the leniency of referee Michael Oliver when he placed his hands, albeit gently, on the back of Soldado inside his own penalty area.

Giroud had a shot deflected off Rose that required an excellent save by Lloris. Walcott then forced another parry from Lloris, with Nacho Monreal missing an excellent chance on the rebound.

A leg injury to Capoue had ensured five minutes of added time and, with Arsenal retreating, Spurs' best opportunities arose during a series of frantic goalmouth scrambles.

A shot from Jermain Defoe had flicked off Koscielny and required an excellent save by Szczesny, with Soldado then smashing the ball into a cluster of bodies and being denied a penalty as it cannoned off Giroud's arm.

The celebrations that greeted the final whistle were ecstatic but Wenger will know that the mood could quickly shift full circle again, especially if Monday's trolley dash is in vain.

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