Tomas Rosicky strikes early to hand Arsenal win vs. Tottenham

Olivier Giroud throws his arm around Tomas Rosicky in celebration.

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It took just 72 seconds for the 175th North London derby to be decided. One minute and a fifth of another was all Arsenal needed to claw their way back into the title race and for Tottenham Hotspur to lose any realistic hope of claiming fourth place and the UEFA Champions League place it comes equipped with.

Tomas Rosicky’s very early strike held up for the entirety of a tense and an unrelentingly entertaining game, which ended 1-0 to the visitors. They were well-timed points for Arsenal, since an upset of league-leaders Chelsea by Aston Villa on Saturday had left the door open for other teams to play their way back into contention. Manchester City and Liverpool had already taken advantage, by beating Hull City 2-0 and hammering an unmoored Manchester United 3-0, respectively.

As such, Liverpool and Arsenal are now four points adrift from Chelsea, with a game in hand. City are six points back, but they have played three fewer games and could take the lead if they do no worse than win two and draw one of those.

Spurs, meanwhile, remain in fifth place but trail City by seven points having played three more games. Everton, in sixth, also have one less game played than Tottenham and are only two points back. This effectively ends the Spurs’ perpetual pursuit of a place in Europe’s premier competition.

Arsenal craved this win badly, as they are once again beset by a rash of injuries – to midfielders Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey and forward Theo Walcott. They had lost their last league game to Stoke City and had been badly outclassed by Bayern Munich in Europe mid-week. What’s more, they hadn’t won at White Hart Lane since 2007.

Before the game was well and truly underway, Tottenham turned over the ball in Arsenal’s half. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain won it and scurried off with it. He found Rosicky streaking up the right, who returned the ball to its original sender at the edge of the Spurs’ box. It rolled loose after a challenge, and Rosicky, in a fit of inspiration, took a quick swipe at it. The ball sizzled through Jan Vertonghen’s legs and into the far top corner, for what will surely be counted among the goals of the year.

That very early goal allowed Arsenal to luxuriate in its away lead. For the remainder of the half, they sat in and picked their moments to attack Spurs through their very high line. They had some success with it, when Santi Cazorla played through balls toward Lucas Podolski or Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky would combine up the right. Several chances were so forged, highlighted by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s clear run on Hugo Lloris’ goal, which culminated in his totally miss-hitting his daring chip. On the sidelines, embattled Spurs manager Tim Sherwood hurled his vest at his own bench in rage.

That fury may well have been unleashed on his players during his half-time speech, because Spurs looked like a new side at the other end of the break. Suddenly, they strode at their neighbors with real purpose. Nacer Chadli got a particularly fat chance in the 52nd minute, as Andros Townsend served him just yards from the goal on a nice setup from Emmanuel Adebayor. But the Belgian, who had had a pair of nice chances a few minutes earlier as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny twice bobbled high balls in his box, once again failed to convert.

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Most all of the danger emanating from the Spurs seemed to originate from Adebayor, who is perhaps the player to have gained the most from Andre Villas-Boas’s sacking back in mid-December. His impact grew as the game wore on and Tottenham ratcheted up the pressure on their guests with every passing minute, until their surge petered out late on. They never did manage to equalize, failing to turn promising moves into clear-cut chances.

On the whole, Spurs continued to feel like a work in progress. As is well worn by now, they bid goodbye to a half dozen regulars last summer – not least of whom was Gareth Bale – and the expensive batch of bottomless talent that replaced them, has yet to coalesce. Their crisis now deepens, in the wake of another unsettling 3-1 loss to Benfica in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

Arsenal, meanwhile, after years of seemingly futile building, are presently a side that’s as skilled at scratching out results as it has been in years. They got their goal early, and they knew how to protect it, even if things got dicey at times.

And so, we can now say with some certainty that the Gunners will place above their arch-rivals yet again.