05 January 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham: Rosický and Gnabry seize the day

Talk about a May-December pairing. Serge Gnabry, all of 18 years old, and Tomáš Rosický, long of tooth at 33, teamed up to dominate the midfield and deliver superb goals to see us through to the FA Cup's fourth round. We'll find out who our opponent is from the draw on Monday. For now, let's enjoy the match that was—a cracking North London derby with a fitting result.

At first, I think we could all admit to feeling a bit tetchy at the squad-selection. Fabianski in goal. A Vermaelen-Koscielny pairing. Walcott at striker. Park on the bench. On the other hand, Spurs had selection-trouble of their own, but so it goes. 

It was a tense opening that saw Spurs find but fritter away a number of gilt-edged chances, whether it was Sagna having to block a Dembele shot Fabianski snuffing Eriksen on a break. However, Spurs didn't really look too threatening, and, through Wilshere, Gnabry, Cazorla, and Rosický, we controlled the midfield and created a number of fine chances of our own. 

It was in the 31st minute that Gnabry collected a pass from Sagna and sliced towards the top of the 18. Walcott made a decent run to the right, pulling defenders from Gnabry and forcing Walker to commit to Gnabry. Cool as a cucumber, he found Cazorla unmarked at the corner, and all the Spaniard had to do was size it up and blast it home. Brilliant. It was just one sequence, but Gnabry was vital. His pace, creativity, power, and savvy belie his age. Indeed, that assist was one of six key-passes on the day as he repeatedly got around or past defenders to find teammates with well-timed passes, and had those teammates been a bit more clinical, he could have had two or three assists. As it stands, Gnabry's performance was impressive all day, although he did start to fade towards the end. It seems that each time the 18-year old is given a chance, he takes it, and no more so than today.

At the other end of the spectrum, 33-year old Tomáš Rosický showed yet again why he's a Gunner to the core. I'll admit, early on, I worried that he was pressing too hard and getting too ambitious with his passing as, several times, he'd spray a pass too far ahead of a teammate. It was almost as if he was too wound up for the derby. However, he settled in and buzzed around with greater purpose if not restraint, harassing Spurs players and distributing his passes to greater effect. When he found Danny Rose dilly-dallying with the ball at midfield, he made no mistake, stealing the ball and charging down on the helpless Hugo Lloris. Just when I thought he had taken one touch and one step too many, he chipped Lloris perfectly. To me, the sequence encapsulates Rosický perfectly: pressing to win the ball, artful, perfect touches, and a sublime goal followed by a celebration so full of passion and enthusiasm that prove through and through where Rosický should retire—not that I'm suggesting he retire any time soon.

There were strong performances all around, but it struck me as fitting indeed that the youngest and oldest players on the pitch for either side—embodying Arsenal's past, present, and future—played such definitive roles in the outcome. There was a touching moment towards the end of the match as we set up to defend a Spurs corner when Rosický found Gnabry, wh was perhaps feeling fatigued or nervous, and gave him a reassuring nod and comment and put an arm around him briefly. Nothing maudlin or melodramatic, mind you, just a seasoned veteran checking in on the new kid.

It came shortly after Walcott was stretchered off and we had to play with ten men, but such is the spirit and grit of this squad that it almost didn't matter. By then, we had shown, once again, why North London is red.