x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Arsenal's action-packed replay against Tottenham

Gunners rally from a goal deficit to thrash Andre Villas-Boas's side 5-2 after their goalscorer Adebayor is sent off.

Per Mertesacker scores Arsenal's first goal that brought the home team back into the game before thrashing Tottenham Hotspur.
Per Mertesacker scores Arsenal's first goal that brought the home team back into the game before thrashing Tottenham Hotspur.

A second 5-2, come-from-behind victory over Tottenham in the calendar year. Three points that raise them back above their local enemies. An opportunity to bait the detested Emmanuel Adebayor for some callous self-destruction and to roll out an inventively ironic chant of "Are you Tottenham in disguise?"

How Arsenal's supporters revelled in the inventive passing of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. How Arsene Wenger grinned as the impressively efficient wing play of Theo Walcott condemned Tottenham to an embarrassing score line.

"If we can show our ability and courage in every game we can fly up the table now," said Walcott still thrilling to the adrenalin of it all. "We shut a lot of people up with how good we were today."

Yes, this was a fine afternoon to be in Arsenal red, yet it was not that good. Sufficient circumstances turned in their favour, enough fundamental issues remained apparent in their defending, to query whether a painful corner has been totally turned.

That Andre Villas-Boas entered the stadium regarding Arsenal as an opponent to be exploited was evident in his team selection.

He played two centre forwards, starting Adebayor with Jermain Defoe for just the second time this season. All went encouragingly well for him until Adebayor lost his head, and his place on the park.

Tottenham, with Kyle Naughton in at left back and Jan Vertonghen moved into the centre, played a high defensive line, pressing aggressively to unsettle Arsenal's midfield ball player.

The hosts were forced back into their own half and into errors. The early possession was Tottenham; all of the chances. William Gallas swept a shot elegantly into Wojciech Szczesny's top corner only for an offside flag to spare home grimaces. Aaron Lennon exposed Thomas Vermaelen's overly aggressive positioning at left back and slid a shot just across goal.

In between those two, Vertonghen clipped a ball down the channel, Per Mertesacker decided to try and catch Defoe offside when his teammates were all back-pedalling and the little striker stretched Szczesny into palming the ball out. Adebayor turned the rebound in.

Then came a wholly unnecessary foul from the African. A few yards inside his own half, Adebayor lunged lengthwise at Cazorla, both feet off the ground, studs first into the Spaniard's shin.

"It was not rose, it was not yellow, it was a red card," said Wenger. "Tottenham had a good start, we were a bit nervous, and it looked like last season. the sending off was the turning point."

The game flowed back in Arsenal's direction. Naughton had been struggling with Walcott, and when the winger turned him one way, then the other and stood up a fine cross for Mertesacker the German's header was unstoppable.

Hugo Lloris twice saved well from Olivier Giroud before conceding a slightly unfortunate second. Wilshere's pass to Lukas Podolski benefited from one deflection and the German's shot a second before bypassing the French goalkeeper.

With Tottenham desperately in need of half-time direction, the irrepressible Cazorla ran through Sandro's foul to cross for Giroud. A sweeping finish elevated the striker's recent return to five in six appearances.

"I feel better and better in this team," said Giroud.

At the break, Villas-Boas withdrew both fullbacks and Clint Dempsey was added to the attack in a switch to a 3-2-3-1 system that produced sufficient opportunities to make the second half interesting.

Gareth Bale converted one - running at two Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny before imperiously driving home - and frightened Szczesny with a second.

Arsenal, though, proved the better finishers. As Tottenham's high-risk formation opened up room for the counterattack Cazorla and Walcott added to a lopsided result.

"We played three v three at the back second half," said Villas-Boas, his team now 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester City. "We are disappointed but you have to believe in the way we play. The league position is not good but a game does not decide the league position."

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