Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Forever in our Shadow

So, it turns out that 110M Euros only gives you a nicer apartment in the postal code of Arsenal's shadow.

There were many who honestly worried about this fixture in the run-up to it, but I can say that I never did. While I failed to get the score correct (I had said we'd win 3-1), the underlying reasons for my optimism were proved right in the end. Whatever our frustrations with the manager's reluctance to add to the squad, our first team is a strong one and is improving as time goes by. Meanwhile, our nearest and dearest have brought in too many players in too quick a time, and it showed in the incoherence of their play this morning.

Of course, there is still the open question as to whether our paper-thin squad depth can hold up over four competitions, and the inevitability that they will massively improve as their squad starts to gel. However, those are worries for another day - today is for reveling in a fantastic and spirited win over our rivals.

The starting XI picked itself because, really, who else was going to play? The visitors threw almost all of their new boys at us - Christian Eriksen was not signed in time and Erik Lamela only made the bench, but Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli all suited up against us.

Unlike the last few NLDs, Arsenal did not give up an early goal or two that they would have to claw back later. The Gunners were solid early on, and could have been ahead in the first few minutes via a Santi Cazorla free kick had Hugo Lloris not been sharp to palm it to safety. A few minutes later, the little Spaniard had another free kick in a dangerous area, and outwitted the wall by shooting it under them as they jumped. Sadly, it went inches wide of the post.

We didn't entirely have it our way though, the visitors pouring numbers forward at every opportunity. While Carl Jenkinson looked vulnerable and continued to do so throughout the match, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were an impassable bulwark in the center of defense. The German in particular shone with his intelligent reading of the game, popping up with priceless interceptions and key tackles countless times throughout the match.

Tottenham had defended decently well in the early going themselves, but Arsenal ruthlessly took advantage of the one mistake they made in the first half. Tomas Rosicky's through-ball to Theo Walcott down the right was inch-perfect, and onside thanks to the dozing Michael Dawson. That same man was then beaten to the cutback by Olivier Giroud, who brilliantly redirected the ball on the dead run. Lloris was beaten at his near post, but no one was saving that - the placement could not be better.

The Gunners were not about to rest on the laurels of such a slim lead though, and only another fine stop from Lloris kept Walcott from doubling the advantage a few minutes later. The angle was tight, but those shots so close to your body are often awkward for a keeper to deal with. You'll see more of this theme as we continue, but this would have been a rout were it not for their French stopper.

Actually, on another day it could have been 3-0 a few minutes after that, or at least 2-0 with Lloris sent off. Yet another lightning-fast counterattack saw Theo break out into the open, but Lloris had read the danger immediately and was quickly off his line. Admittedly, in real time I was indignant that Michael Oliver had bottled it by not sending Lloris off. But, replays clearly showed that he had gotten the ball first - I hate to praise their players but that was an astonishingly brilliant tackle.

That almost took us to halftime, but not before Jack Wilshere had to come off due to the effects of the virus he's suffering with. I promise I won't belabor this point too much, but we had him in the starting XI and Bacary Sagna on the bench, both of whom should have been at home resting. I just don't get what Arsene is thinking. Anyway, Mathieu Flamini came on to kick off his second go-round with the club, and it has to be said that it was like he never left. He dealt well with the frenetic pace of the match, and gave us some bite in the center of the park. We can't complain about that performance, whatever you may think about how he left us in the lurch years ago.

The visitors started the brighter of the two sides in the second half, and if we're being honest they largely controlled the game from then on out. It was almost a Bizzaro World version of one of our matches, with us defending well and countering when the opportunity presented itself. You can't speak highly enough of our midfield's efforts, with guys like Aaron Ramsey and Rosicky haring to and fro breaking up attacks and pressuring them into mistakes.

That pressure did unfortunately result in a serious injury to Etienne Capoue, though. Santi Cazorla pressed in on him, and in the resulting tangle Santi fell heavily on the Frenchman's leg. There was no malice in it, it's the sort of thing that happens 10 or 20 times in a game - Capoue was desperately unlucky that he landed the way he did. I hear it may be a double leg break, but I hope for his sake that it's less serious than all that - I don't care who he plays for, that shouldn't be wished on anybody. We at TMG wish him a speedy recovery.

Spurs had their best chance of the match from the resulting free kick, but Wojciech Szczesny simply refused to be beaten. He really is making a mockery out of those who have been banging the drums for a new keeper (and really, Emiliano Viviano is emphatically NOT better than Szczesny - he has never made it past the fringes of the Italian national side for a reason). The first ball in was deflected out by the defense, but the substitute Jermain Defoe's volley banked off of Koscielny and looked for all the world like it was going in. Szczesny was originally wrong-footed, but stopped his momentum, got a few steps over and managed to fingertip it out at full extension. Roberto Soldado was there to pick up the rebound, but it was stopped on the line by, of all people, a certain dreamy French striker.

You will not see a better save all season - I promise you that. 99 times out of 100, you just can't save that as a keeper.

Soon after, our ludicrous lack of squad depth came into play again as Nacho Monreal replaced Rosicky in the forward three. Yes, kids, a left-back playing up top. You can cross that one off the bucket list. Sure enough, seconds later that very man had a glorious chance to tap in an easy rebound after Lloris brilliantly saved a shot from Walcott. Monreal was beaten to it by Kyle Walker though, and the chance went begging.

In a sense though, I'm glad Nacho didn't score there. The precarious 1-0 scoreline meant that the last 10 minutes (plus 5 of injury time) asked serious questions of our defense, our spirit, our toughness and our tenacity. Arsenal passed all of those tests with flying colors. It was nerve-wracking at times, as Tottenham threw more and more players forward as we retreated further and further back. A patently unfit Sagna was thrown on for Walcott in the dying minutes, as it was truly all hands to the pumps at that point.

However many heart attacks we may have collectively had in that last ten minutes, the truth of the matter is that they never seriously threatened Szczesny's goal. Everything they threw at us was repelled by Kos, or Per, or the excellent Kieran Gibbs, or even Giroud. Everyone was back there putting in a shift, and the heroes in red withstood the siege and protected those precious three points.

Look, it hasn't always been easy to be an Arsenal supporter in the last 6-7 years. All of the heartbreak, the near-misses, the transfer failures, the ridiculous reverses against poor opponents..there has been no shortage of hardships to endure. But, times like that last ten minutes make everything worth it. That was Arsenal Football Club to the bone - squint hard enough and that could have been Adams and Bould clearing out those headers, or McClintock or even Eddie Hapgood if we want to get seriously old-school.

I could not be prouder of my club today. Hours after the final whistle, I'm still buzzing. What a match. What heart. What spirit. You give us three more top-class players and we're going to win this league.

Mind the gap, Tottenham. You wish you were in our league, no matter how many millions you spend.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8:  He didn't have much to do, but made that one wonder-save when it counted. His distribution has also markedly improved, and he calmly got us out of trouble a few times by dealing with backpasses well.

Gibbs 7: Played well on both sides of the ball.

Mertesacker 8: Absolutely many critical interceptions and tackles, and was a colossus during those last ten minutes.

Koscielny 8: As awesome as the BFG was, Kos matched him key tackle for key tackle. He has had some hiccups in big matches earlier in his Arsenal career, but that part of his game is long gone.

Jenkinson 6: He was victimized more than once by Andros Townsend down the right flank, but never catastrophically. His forward runs did help keep Townsend and Walker honest, as well.

Wilshere 6: Looked off the pace, but he never should have been in there in the first place.

(Flamini 7): Honestly looked like he never left. Slotted right in and gave us a battling midfield performance on a day where it was badly needed. I for one am stoked to have him back, free transfer or not.

Ramsey 7: Definitely not his best day offensively, but he more than made up for it with a sturdy defensive outing. As noted before, he gave absolutely everything for the shirt.

Cazorla 7: Ordinary by his standards, meaning he had a good game by any reasonable measurement. Didn't quite give us the customary moment of magic, but he also put in a shift defensively and was unlucky not to score on either of his early free kicks.

Rosicky 6: I've seen a lot of people say he had a great game, but I just didn't see it. There were several times where I think he could have made a better pass, and he took a stupid yellow card in the first half. In normal circumstances he probably would have been subbed off sooner.

(Monreal 6): Like Wilshere, this rating isn't really his fault - this is what happens when you ask a left back to convert an important chance as a de facto striker. He also got skinned a few times in the dying minutes to put us under more pressure.

Walcott 7: This game won't go on his end-of-career DVD, but he worked hard and tested Lloris on several occasions.

(Sagna N/A): Did OK in a late cameo - he never should have been asked to play, but gave us a few solid minutes at the end.

Giroud 9: As close to a 10 as a 9 can get - not only did he brilliantly take his goal on a dead run, he was right back there at the end with the rest of the defense, repelling Spurs brilliantly. Not only that, he was the one to keep out Soldado's follow-up after Szczesny's wonder save.

Man of the Match: I am super, super glad that we held the lead, otherwise I'd have had to give it to Lloris in good conscience. That said, as recently as 2 hours ago (it is 7:40 in the PM at the moment), I was leaning towards Mertesacker. But, in the end, it has to be Olivier Giroud. Not just for the goal, but for a brilliant defensive performance as well. What a player he's turning out to be.