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Walcott shows stomach to help thwart Tottenham

Theo Walcott has been sidelined with a chest infection recently but it was the winger’s stomach which last night ensured Arsenal approach their Carling Cup semi final second leg on level terms.

The Gunners travel to Light Weight Lane on January 22 with the score locked at 1-1 following last night’s end-to end encounter.

After a bright opening by the hosts which saw Nicklas Bendtner head straight at Sp*rs keeper Radek Cerny at the end of a typically flowing move, the visitors grew as a force in the match with Dimitar Berbatov at the heart of everything.

Ledley King ensured Tottenham were tighter at the back and with their front pair and midfield hustling and harrying high up the pitch, Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos and Denilson struggled to start Arsenal attacks from deep.

So it came as no real surprise when Berbatov’s volleyed through ball put Robbie Keane clear of our defence. As Lucasz Fabianski came out to close down the angle, the Irishman squared for Jermaine Jenas to tap home.

Djourou in particular looked off the pace in the first period and was unsurprising subbed for Bacary Sagna at the break, with Justin Hoyte shuffling across to partner Senderos in the centre.

Worryingly, Van Persie faded as the first half wore on and was also replaced at half-time, with in-form Eduardo taking his place.

After Sunday afternoon’s energy-sapping FA Cup win on Burnley’s winter-worn Turf Moor pitch, Le Boss’ men looked a little flat against their fired-up local opponents.

I also thought we missed the energy of Lassana Diarra in the middle of the park. In December the 22-year-old told a French magazine he felt the Gunners “didn’t need” him. Well, last night we could’ve done with the former Chelsea star and for one reason or another, he wasn’t involved.

And the reason I highlight his absence is because as much as I hate to admit it, Gilberto looks past his best and a little out of zinc amongst his younger, zippier team-mates. Perhaps that’s down to a lack of first team starts rather than any waning of the Brazilian’s powers. But at 31, you can’t help but wonder whether the 2002 World Cup winner will be around beyond this season.

Arsenal eventually got their breakthrough 10 minutes from time as Walcott’s intelligent run inside his marker was rewarded by Eduardo’s through ball. As Walcott and his direct opponent Lee Young-Pyo closed in on the ball, the Sp*rs man’s attempted clearance ricocheted off the teenager’s midriff past a stranded Cerny and into the net.

During a first half in which nearly every avenue Arsenal explored was cut off by Tottenham’s pressing, I wondered whether Juande Ramos’ men could keep up their work-rate right through the ninety. And as much as an equaliser was always going to swing the game back in our favour, they tired towards the end and we may even have nicked it through an Eduardo header at the death.

That would have been harsh on Sp*rs but as Paul Merson said afterwards, “That was Arsenal reserves and they still couldn’t beat them.”

And that sums it up for me.

Yes Sp*rs played well and yes they can count themselves a little disappointed at having squandered the lead. But that was Tottenham’s first-choice eleven – give or take a Gareth Bale - and only a half-fit Robin van Persie can be considered a first eleven starter for the Gunners.

And to put things in an even purer perspective, that was Arsenal reserves playing well below par - and they still couldn’t beat us.

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Posted by Mo Khan on January 10, 2008 11:13 AM in Match Report
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