North London is red – again.
With their sleeves rolled up and their backs against the wall, Arsenal secured a gritty 1-0 win at Tottenham on Sunday.
Tomas Rosicky’s thunderbolt strike put them ahead after only two minutes. They had to soak up serious pressure after that but, with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny magnificent in central defence, they kept Tottenham at bay.
Only Nacer Chadli spurned a real, clear-cut chance while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mertesacker had open opportunities to calm the visitors nerves.
This win was crucial in every sense – the Premier League table, north London pride, the team’s confidence. It just goes on.
Arsenal are back in the thick of the title race again.
But, with this wonderful, wonderful win - their first in six attempts at White Hart Lane - they have already secured local bragging rights for another season.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsène Wenger made three changes from the side that had snatched a draw at Bayern Munich in midweek.
Keeper Wojciech Szczesny was back from suspension to replace Lukasz Fabianski. Elsewhere Rosicky replaced the injured Mesut Ozil while Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal at left back.
Tottenham had endured a difficult week; beaten 3-1 at home to Benfica on Thursday and 4-0 at Chelsea the previous Sunday.
The defeat of the Jose Mourinho’s side at Aston Villa gave Arsenal the chance to close the gap on the leading team in the Premier League. However weekend wins for Manchester City and Liverpool meant the visitors really required victory to keep pace with the other contenders.
Arsenal were ahead before you could blink with a goal you could not see.
Oxlade-Chamberlain led visitors charge out of defence and found Rosicky on the right.
His thunderous drive whistled past Hugo Lloris and found the top corner of the net.
It was perhaps Arsenal’s goal of the season and maybe their most important.
You might have expected Tottenham to go into their shell as a result. But they responded with courage.
Szczesny was barely tested but the host put the pressure on.
However the next chance would fall to Arsenal – and it should have been 2-0.
Rosicky fed Oxlade-Chamberlain in the right-hand channel. He skipped past his marker and raced half the length of the pitch before miscuing his chip horribly with Podolski screaming for the ball on the left-hand side. A glaring miss.
So Arsenal had the better chances but Tottenham were still dangerous. Andros Townsend got around the back of the defence and fired across the face of goal then Adebayor flicked the ball wide of the far post.
In between, Cazorla released Podsolski down the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain rifled an effort well wide.
In the 36th minute, after more Tottenham pressure, Gibbs set up Podolski to fire a fierce shot into the side-netting.
Arsenal reached the break in the lead but under pressure.
Chadli might have equalised twice within five minutes of the restart.
Szczesny spilled a high, hanging cross and the Belgian collected. He beat the stranded keeper and a combination of Koscielny and Mertesacker blocked his shot with the goal gaping.
Then Townsend’s dangerous cross was mis-flicked by Chadli again with the goal at his mercy.
Tottenham had come out with drive and determination. They had dominated territorially in the first half. If anything they were tightening their grip.
After that, Adebayor nodded wide from Bentaleb’s deep cross.
But time ticked away and, gradually, Arsenal eased the pressure. The substitutions for Rosicky and Podolski for Mathieu Flamini and Nacho Monreal helped their cause. Tottenham ran out of steam.
Arsenal might have won it 11 minutes from time when Mertesacker turned a low shot goalwards from Cazorla’s free-kick but Lloris made a superb save on the goalline.
The game had been in the balance since the second minute and, in the dying moments, it was still there.
Adebayor tried to curl a shot past Szczesny from range but the Pole held on.
It was the last chance for the home side.
Tottenham kept pressing, Arsenal kept holding them off.
It is gritty, gutsy and nervy to the end.
But, at the final whistle, Arsenal had the a crucial win.
After a massive weekend, Wenger's men are four points off leaders Chelsea with a game in hand.
And, next weekend, they go to Stamford Bridge.
Referee: Mike Dean
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