LONDON: To play below their best yet win 5-2 against a team higher up the league table is the mark of a team with spirit and self-belief somewhere in the system. That sums up Arsenal after their second successive score by that margin in the north London derby.
Arsenal play Montpellier in midweek in the Champions League. After the shock of a first European home defeat in nine years at the hands of Schalke the Gunners are back on course. Victory over Montpellier will secure their place in the knockout stages with a game to spare.
The north London derby had started so well for Spurs and their under-pressure manager Andre Villas-Boas. They went 1:0 up through ex-Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor after only nine minutes and then saw a low, angled shot from Aaron Lennnon skid inches wide of the returning Wojciech Szcsesny’s right-hand post.
However Adebayor was sent off by referee Howard Webb in the 17th minute for a reckless challenge on Arsenal playmaker Santi Cazorla and Arsenal took advantage in punishing style. This was Adebayor’s fourth red card in English football, with Webb having produced three of them.
Per Mertesacker, badly caught out by the pace and perception of Jermain Defoe before Adebayor’s goal, headed Arsenal level with his first goal for the club after 15 months in north London. Welcome as that was in helping push the Gunners up to sixth place, they have recorded only four clean sheets in Mertesacker’s 11 league appearances so far this season.
Lukas Podolski drew inspiration from the other half of Arsenal’s German connection 18 minutes later. Up to that point Podolski had been anonymous but he showed lightning-quick reactions to jab a second Arsenal goal after a rapid-fire sequence of inter-passing.
Podolski’s fourth goal in the league was also his second in successive games after a two-month hiatus. In that time he has been outshone in the marksmanship stakes by Olivier Giroud who duly scored Arsenal’s third goal just before half-time, his fifth in five games.
Cazorla added a fourth on the hour but Spurs, showing plenty of spirit, pulled one back 10 minutes later with Gareth Bale’s fourth goal of the season. Tottenham, bravely, switched to three men at the back but the unsettled Theo Walcott punished them a fifth time on the break.
Villas-Boas, comparatively blameless for once by Spurs fans, thought his team had dominated the entire game. Wenger, of course, disagreed.
“People always question our performances when we are not at the top,” he said, “but I have a great confidence in this team that they have something special and was always confident that we would come out but we want to show that now in a consistent way.
“Tottenham made a good start but we have shown belief, spirit and quality in our game. In the end it was a great win, a great score and that will strengthen our belief again.”
Walcott remains an issue. The England forward’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is undecided whether to stay or go. This, of course, is hardly a new problem for Arsenal and Wenger.
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