RESILIENT Arsenal completed a smash-and-grab raid to win the north London derby and drag themselves back into the Barclays Premier League title race.
Scorer: Arsenal - Rosicky (2)
A thunderbolt from Tomas Rosicky after just 72 seconds proved enough for the Gunners to earn a first victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane since September 2007.
Tim Sherwood’s hosts could have taken something from the match after they dominated possession for long spells and saw midfielder Nacer Chadli spurn a glorious chance to equalise following a mistake by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
However, the visitors survived and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will now take his side to Chelsea for his 1,000th match in charge this weekend only four points off the leaders and with a game in hand. Spurs, though, are all but out of the race for the top four, as they now languish seven points behind Manchester City.
Arsenal’s victory was the ideal response to the defeat at Stoke in their last Premier League outing and may well prove a catalyst to success in this weekend’s trip to leaders Chelsea. “It gets us a bit closer to Chelsea and makes the game next week even more interesting,” Wenger said. “We are now back to four points behind, we have a game in hand and we’ve played two away games on the trot now. We have five games at home and we will see. It makes, of course, the next game a very big one. We needed the three points after a disappointing result at Stoke and I think that was still on our mind. Overall, we know to stay in the race it was vital to win and our away fans have been brilliant since the start of the season.”
Arsenal were ahead inside two minutes with a goal of the highest order. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pushed the ball out to Rosicky on the right, and he returned a pass back to the England man. The ball then broke again off Oxlade-Chamberlain into the path of the Czech playmaker who fired a fizzing angled drive past Hugo Lloris into the top-left corner.
Sherwood’s side – whose collective character has been questioned by the manager in recent weeks – soon regrouped and caused Arsenal a few problems with probing balls into the penalty area. Arsenal, though, retained possession well and it should have been 2-0 on 15 minutes when Oxlade-Chamberlain robbed Nabil Bentaleb on the halfway line and sprinted clear.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, so impressive in the midweek Champions League draw at Bayern Munich, darted to the edge of the penalty area, but, as Lloris came off his line, the Arsenal man screwed his attempted chip horribly wide, with Lukas Podolski screaming for a square pass for what would have been a tap-in.
That let-off gave a lift to the home side, who immediately went on the offensive with a low cross from Andros Townsend on the right flying through the six-yard box. On 21 minutes, Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna slid into a challenge with Danny Rose which, although he probably touched the ball first, upended the Spurs defender. Sherwood was off the bench demanding a red card but, after a stern talking-to, referee Mike Dean produced only a yellow.
Spurs continued to play a very high defensive line, which was breached again when Podolski raced clear down the left. His cut-back was just behind Rosicky but Oxlade-Chamberlain connected with a strike that was deflected out for a corner. The home side should have been level at the start of the second half following two terrible handling errors by Szczesny. First the Pole flapped at a cross on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area, which Sagna hacked away as Chadli chased the loose ball. Then, inexplicably, Szczesny failed to collect a high cross into the box, which this time did fall for Chadli, but somehow Laurent Koscielny blocked his goalbound shot at point-blank range.
With 20 minutes left, there was a double change for the home side when Paulinho and Gylfi Sigurdsson replaced Chadli and Sandro. For Arsenal, Rosicky was taken off as defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini came on. Wenger was off his seat and protesting for what he felt was a penalty after Koscielny was sent tumbling by Jan Vertonghen, but the referee was not interested.
Lloris then made a smart reaction save after Mertesacker lashed the ball goalwards from a deep free kick. Tempers boiled over in the closing minutes as Sherwood twice hurled the ball at Sagna when Arsenal had been awarded a throw-in. Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta was less than impressed and eventually it needed Wenger to move in and act as peacemaker in a crowded technical area before his side saw out victory.
Sherwood felt Spurs merited at least a point. “After going behind to early in the game, you fear the worse but they did me proud today,” he said. “They stuck together and took the game to Arsenal. We’re talking about a team pushing for the title here and we didn’t deserve to lose that game. I think we deserved to win it.”