Midfield maestros hold the key for Arsenal
It was a match which more than lived up to its billing, which, considering the recent history of the fixture, was certainly justified before-hand. But nobody could have expected that outcome. While the fact that Tottenham were 2-0 up in the first half would suggest that they were all over Arsenal, this isn’t true; for the first five minutes, Arsenal were a little shaky but for the remaining 85 they absolutely dominated their rivals.
A key part in this was played by Arsenal’s midfielders – mainly Tomas Rosicky & Mikel Arteta, although Alex Song also did his bit. The performance in midfield was similar to that of Jack Wilshere & Aaron Ramsey against Manchester United, with Song again performing the foiling role as the anchor.
As the young midfielders did against the Red Devils last season, the more experienced Rosicky & Arteta shared the responsibilities in the middle of the field. The two took turns as the highest presser alongside Robin van Persie, while the other sat just in front of Alex Song winning the ball and helping Arsenal keep it. When the Gunners were in possession, Arteta and Rosicky were always offering an option, and both made driving runs from midfield to give Arsenal intensity and dynamism.
The duo always harried Tottenham in possession, which was one of the vital things in Arsenal’s performance – high pressure. Tottenham couldn’t cope with their players being relentlessly pressed, and Arteta & Rosicky were crucial in that. They embodied Arsenal’s spirit, fight and also technical assurance; and they gave the energy that has been lacking when Aaron Ramsey has played.
With Alex Song picking up his own slack in the second half, Arsenal’s performance improved, with Arteta & Rosicky free to get forward. Song’s increased defensive discipline paid off, with the Cameroon international winning many crucial interceptions and helping to start moves off. In some recent games Arsenal’s midfield has been slightly invisible and overrun also, but the complete opposite can be said of today. Indeed, Arteta made 75 successful passes, more than the combined total of any two Tottenham players (via EPL Index).
Rosicky’s eagerness to get forward was epitomised in his goal (one this particular blogger in fact predicted before the game) when he drove forward, gave the ball to Sagna and sped on into the box to flick the ball past Brad Friedel. Goals from midfielders, and in fact key contributions from midfielders in general have been missing this season without Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, but Rosicky showed a hunger that has arguably been missing for a while now.
Another player who played a key role (although you could make a case for every man on the pitch for Arsenal) was Yossi Benayoun, whose tireless work on the left flank helped Arsenal’s cause hugely. Wenger’s men slightly ended up in a lop-sided 4-4-2 – Theo Walcott naturally moved closer towards Robin van Persie, while Benayoun had a tendency to drop back into midfield.
The compactness of Tottenham proved resistant to Arsenal at times, although they found a way through by working the wings and hitting the ball into the box. The presence of two specialist full-backs in Sagna and Gibbs, on their preferred sides also, made a big difference as they both got down the wings to overlap to good effect.
Putting the ball into the box eventually paid off with Sagna emphatically heading home Arteta’s precise cross. Tottenham then couldn’t get the ball clear, with Arsenal winning every ball, and van Persie picked the ball up, spun past his markers and curled home a magnificent effort.
The second half was perfect from Arsenal though. Arteta & Rosicky in particular were pressing and cajoling, producing sublime performances in the middle of the park. The sharing of the midfield burden was delightful to see, and the intensity of Arsenal’s play even more so.
The hunger and drive from the Gunners was what was different from usual – it has been seen in the second halves of the Aston Villa and Manchester United matches in particular, and now again versus, as Bacary Sagna puts it, “the enemy”. The common factor between those three performances? Tomas Rosicky. With that, I bid you a good night.