London – Isn’t it wonderful when it makes no sense? Final outlay: Arsenal 0 Tottenham Hotspur 107.5 million. Final score: Arsenal 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0.
We all know how this was supposed to play out. Clueless Arsenal would be exposed by their savvy neighbours as the mercury in the Emirates Stadium rose to dangerous levels. Tottenham may have lost Gareth Bale, but they have gained a new, lavishly expensive team this summer, putting Arsene Wenger’s dithering in sharp relief.
Here it was, the fearful day of reckoning, just as the window slams shut. Tottenham’s team bright and shiny, Arsenal’s creaking and stretched to its very limits by injuries and procrastination. There was only going to be one winner.
Yet we forget. Arsenal have something a team as freshly minted as Tottenham cannot possibly possess: a philosophy. Not the cautious transfer-market policy we hear so much about, the one that holds the club back and keeps it mired in fourth place.
A playing philosophy. A way of passing, of moving, of approaching goal, a blueprint that can still, at times, make them among the finest sides in Europe to watch. And this was what saw them through.
While Tottenham may as well have been exchanging handshakes, greetings and business cards in their pre-match huddle, so unfamiliar is this team, Arsenal’s one advantage is Wenger’s famous way. He is reluctant to buy because he thinks new arrivals must first get used to Arsenal’s style – and who knows it better than the players he already has on the staff?
So Sunday was vindication of sorts – Arsenal won because they knew how. Tottenham lost because they barely know each other after just a handful of games this season.
Erik Lamela was the only player from the latest batch of arrivals given a game, appearing as a 74th-minute substitute, but signings such as Nacer Chadli and Paulinho were still only starting their third or fourth match in a Tottenham shirt. This is a work in progress. If anything, the criticism of Arsenal is that there is no progress, just more work.
And this result will not exactly help if it merely reinforces Wenger’s belief that, were nothing to happen in the final 24 hours of the transfer window it would be far from the end of the world.
Yet, Arsenal were clinging by their fingertips to this win. It is a worrying sign of what lies beneath the first-team group that when the game finished, Wenger was utilising four full backs – Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal – and two central defenders – Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny – in an outfield team of 10.
The loss of Jack Wilshere, unwell, shortly before half time, was an unfortunate blow that greatly reduced Arsenal’s creative potential, but an elite team should not be dancing on that knife-edge. Stripped down to basics, Wenger needs numbers. He cannot rely on memory and the adrenaline of a derby fixture with Tottenham to pull his players through until the walking wounded return.
Still, considering that some feared a riot in the stadium come 6pm on Sunday, the raucous noise of happy home fans will have done much to ease tension in these parts, short-term. Arsenal now have close to two weeks to regroup and reconfigure in time for the visit to troubled Sunderland on September 14.
This summer will not go down as one of Wenger’s finest works, but if there is any manager it is pleasing to see confound the odds, it is him. He has principles, he has belief, he is a man apart and his teams have that blessed philosophy to keep the neutrals happy.
What Sunday’s match proved is that Wenger remains close to having a very good team indeed; which is perhaps what makes his reluctance to finish such an admirable project so frustrating. – Daily Mail