Read a full match report of the FA Cup game between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday Jan 4, 2014.
Out-played; out-thought; outmanoeuvred; sliced open as cleanly as if a scalpel had been applied. Arsenal were as cool as you like at times amid the heat and fury of this cup derby.
Arsenal fans delight in goading Spurs with chants of “Mind The Gap” — after the latter lost a seven-point advantage last season to be pipped for fourth place — but that gap has widened to a gulf. Once more.
On the evidence of this Third Round FA Cup tie Spurs have gone backwards as quickly as Arsenal have surged forward in a campaign which Arsène Wenger will surely hope now ends in silverware.
For all of Tim Sherwood’s impressive start as Spurs’ head coach in the Premier League — 10 points from a possible 12 — he has also now presided over exits in two cup competitions in two ties against London sides. And he has been shown up, tactically, in both.
Sherwood was having none of that last night but from the minute he deployed his attacking 4-4-2 against Arsenal then it was in danger of being the football equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade. They were cut down as they hurtled forward. It did not look good.
“Tim Sherwood’s a Gooner” chanted the Arsenal fans by the end, a reminder of the team the Spurs’ head coach grew up supporting, and he did appear to play into Wenger’s hands.
“No, I don’t think we were,” was Sherwood’s response as he countered suggestions that his midfield was over-run through the middle – when it clearly was. “We outnumbered them outside. I think we were fine.” Spurs were not fine, though. “A lot is made of systems but it’s more about passing the ball, funnelling back in and shuffling across,” Sherwood said, ignoring that he is a coach who has, well, made a lot of systems during his brief time so far having succeeded Andre Villas-Boas whose tactics he had quickly criticised.
The ramifications of this tie might run deeper with the Football Association also as they may be forced to investigate the behaviour of Spurs’ supporters, the gestures of Theo Walcott, a clash between Mousa Dembélé and Jack Wilshere and another in which Nabil Bentaleb was accused of stamping on Nacho Monreal.
Much of what happens may also depend on the report submitted by referee Mark Clattenburg who would have perhaps welcomed a less controversial encounter given the accusations levelled against him by Southampton this week. Still the official had a good match.
Many Spurs players, however, did not with Emmanuel Adebayor struggling to justify Sherwood’s claims that Arsenal would be fearful of his presence in attack while Christian Eriksen was curiously deployed wide on the left.
Still he could — he should — have opened the scoring as he profited from a Laurent Koscielny clearance that cannoned off him. Free on goal the Dane dallied and his eventual shot was deflected by goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski for a corner.
Without the injured pair of Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner, who Wenger later confirmed is out for a month, the manager gave Walcott his opportunity as a central striker. He seized it. His pace — and that of the impressive Serge Gnabry — along with Santi Cazorla’s guile was too much for the Spurs defence.
Shots rained in with Hugo Lloris denying the trio — who all struck efforts from distance — before Walcott really should have scored. He ran onto Cazorla’s wall pass and, through on goal, tried to bend his shot around the Spurs goalkeeper who was sharp enough to block.
The goal was clearly coming, though, and Cazorla claimed it. Again Arsenal exposed Spurs’ openness with Gnabry once more smartly cutting back in from the right. As the Spurs’ defenders closed in the teenager had the awareness to slide the ball into space with Cazorla running onto it from the angle.
Where was Kyle Walker? The right-back had been sucked in, as is his wont.
Cazorla struck a fierce first-time shot that was too powerful for Lloris to open the scoring.
“I’m a strong believer in Serge Gnabry but let’s not make superstars with one game,” Wenger later said of the 18-year-old Germany winger. “But the ingredients are there.” Indeed they are. And the ingredients were also there last night for a full-blooded cup tie.
Walcott snapped a volley over before Roberto Soldado wasted two half-chances from distance, dragging his shots across goal, and Bentaleb headed narrowly wide and Adebayor slipped as he attempted to swivel and shoot.
The biggest weapon remained Arsenal’s speed on the counter, through Walcott, who nipped in ahead of Michael Dawson only to strike the side-netting from an acute angle, Gnabry, Cazorla and also Tomas Rosicky whose clever influence grew.
As Spurs attempted to push, they were punished. On half-way Danny Rose dallied in possession, with no cover behind him, and Rosicky whipped the ball away. He ran from there to inside the area, with Walker desperately sprinting back and Lloris left exposed. Rosicky had the presence of mind to wait for the goalkeeper to commit before calmly chipping the ball over him and into the net to double Arsenal’s advantage and end any doubt.
Spurs withdrew the injured Soldado and changed their system, with an extra man in midfield, but it was all too late. Far too late. Arsenal were in control and looked to pick off their opponents with Walcott again going close as he bent a side-footed shot past the post and Cazorla attempting a chip from fully 45 yards out.
Walcott’s injury — a knee problem which could be damaged ligaments – meant Arsenal ended the contest with just 10-men but Spurs were unable to capitalise. That delighted the Arsenal fans even more.
Instead substitute Mesut Özil went close to adding a third forcing a fine save from Lloris who tipped his angled shot around the post. It was too easy for Arsenal and that is what will have hurt Spurs the most.