Arsenal sink Tottenham, advance to League Cup’s fourth round
Mathieu Flamini struck twice as Arsenal beat north London rivals Tottenham 2-1 in the third round of the Capital One League Cup at White Hart Lane.
Match-winners have rarely been so unlikely. In the face of a Tottenham Hotspur surge, Arsenal was reeling, facing a third defeat in a week and looking desperately flat in midfield. Crisis these days never fully deserts the Emirates and it seemed that it might be preparing to come out of hiding once again. And then, completely against the run of play, the implausible figure of Flamini hammered in a brilliant volley, his second goal of the night. Tottenham almost visibly deflated. It was a superb goal by any standards; from a tough-tackling midfield irritant who is usually these days a reserve, it was preposterous.
So Arsenal advanced to the fourth round, elevated after a poor few days, but that doesn’t hide the fact that it was second best for much of the game that actually was a game, rather than the ugly, frenetic scrap of the first half. For once it had done what it so rarely does, it had won ugly on an evening when on the balance of play it would be hard to make a case for it meriting the victory.
Given the changes both managers made, a certain lack of flow early on was probably always to be expected. Perhaps the most surprising of the fringe inclusions was the use of Joel Campbell on the Arsenal right. Although the Costa Rican forward had come off the bench in the UEFA Champions League defeat to Dinamo Zagreb last week, this was his first start for Arsenal since the FA Cup third round tie against Hull City in January.
His failure to make more of an impact is something of a mystery, a dominant figure for his national team, and his pace, strength and movement all seem ideally suited to the Premier League. He struggled for goals in a loan spell at Villarreal, though, and it may be that he is simply one of those players who needs to be the central figure in a team really to thrive.
Certainly he didn’t offer much in the way of protection for Mathieu Debuchy, who had a miserable night at least in part as a consequence. It was no coincidence that two of the three yellow cards Arsenal picked up in the first half were for fouls on the Spurs left back Danny Rose. Campbell was withdrawn after 66 minutes for Alexis Sanchez, having done little other than occasionally sprint forwards very quickly with his head slightly tipped back.
Campbell did have the first chance of the game, though, heading just over after Kieran Gibbs’ low cross had been deflected to him. Although Tottenham bossed possession, that left-side axis of Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked the most likely source of a goal in a fairly scrappy opening to the game and so it proved 25 minutes in.
Receiving a pass from the flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain spun away from Eric Dier rather too easily, creating space for a right-foot shot. He struck it firmly, but not especially far from Michel Vorm. The goalkeeper could only parry the ball straight back out, though, for Flamini to slam the loose ball into the roof of the net.
For much of the first half, it had been a story of sterile Tottenham possession and the occasional Arsenal counter-thrust. Towards halftime, though, Spurs’ attacks began to have more purpose and the pattern continued after the break. First Chadli, his topknot giving him the appearance of a slim-line sumo wrestler, cut the ball back for Christian Eriksen at the edge of the box. His shot was pushed onto the post by David Ospina and although Harry Kane turned in the rebound, he was clearly offside.
Then, seven minutes in, Dier spread the ball right and Andros Townsend let it run for Kieran Trippier. His deep cross found Nacer Chadli at the back post and when he drove the ball across goal, Calum Chambers turned it into his own net at the near post.
That Kane still hasn’t scored a goal for Spurs this season is becoming an increasingly freakish stat. He’s certainly not playing badly, and he was denied a spectacular goal as he met a corner with an overhead only by the head of Gibbs on the line.
And yet it wasn’t Tottenham that won the game. The winner, when it came, could hardly have been less expected. In a career totalling 368 games, Flamini had only totalled 19 goals. In the last 18 months, he had scored only once. He had never in his career scored twice in a game before. But when a miscued clearance fell to him 22 yards out, Flamini struck a ferocious volley that bounced once as it flashed past a helpless Vorm. It was, in every sense, a stunning goal.
There were some minor scuffles after the final whistle as Arsenal fans celebrated by pulling down the "To dare is To Do" sign that fronts the second tier of the South Stand. Stewards tried to stop them before police moved in.