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Despite Squad Rotations, North London Derby Serves Up a Thriller

In today’s Capital One Cup match, both Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino made a variety of changes to the squads we saw compete in the Premier League last weekend. Petr Cech and Hugo Lloris were rotated out in favor of David Ospina and Michel Vorm in goal, and the outfield players saw a great deal of rotation as well.

Only four players between the two clubs who started in the EPL this weekend were on the opening team sheets at White Hart Lane this evening: Eric Dier, Nacer Chadli and Harry Kane for Tottenham, and Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal. Yet despite the major squad changes, this North London Derby was a match worthy of the rivalry.

The first 15 minutes were wide open, with both teams looking dangerous. The first real chance came for Arsenal in the 13th minute when Aaron Ramsey played in Kieran Gibbs along the lefthand side, who crossed the ball in. Olivier Giroud couldn’t quite get around the shot, and the rebound fell to Joel Campbell, who also couldn’t get his body position quite right, and headed over the bar.

Thirteen minutes later, however, the Gunners found the goal they were looking for. It was, in some ways, a classic Arsenal goal, as Ramsey played the ball to Giroud, Giroud held up just momentarily then flicked it on to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who then opened up to shoot just beyond the 18 yard box.

Ox’s shot was low and strong, and Michel Vorm did well to get down to save it. But he couldn’t hang on. Mathieu Flamini, who has seen his place in the Arsenal team fall away with the emergence of Francis Coquelin, was well positioned to win the rebound, firing it into the top of the net from closer range to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead.

Tottenham refused to lie down, creating a handful of chances following Arsenal’s opening goal. In the 31st minute, Kane and Danny Rose combined to produce Spurs’ most dangerous play to that point, playing a one two charing into the box on the lefthand side. Rose chose to shoot, just missing the bottom left hand corner, but had he played one more pass in to Kane at the edge of the six yard box, the young English striker probably would have leveled the match. Tottenham saw shots from both Kane and Christian Eriksen come close, with Eriksen’s shot forcing Ospina into a good save, but Spurs were unable to find an equalizer before halftime.

Just 10 minutes after the break, however, the Spurs got their goal. Or rather, Arsenal defender Calum Chambers got their goal. In the 56th minute, Nacer Chadli was fed the ball down the left hand channel, and after a moment’s hesitation, fired a low shot toward Ospina’s near post. Chambers tried to knock the ball into touch for a corner, but failed, knocking it instead past his goalkeeper and into Arsenal’s net. 1-1.

Arsenal pressed to find the lead again, but couldn’t truly work Michel Vorm, and Arsene Wenger decided to put on Alexis Sanchez in the 67th minute in hopes of changing that. It didn’t take long for the Chilean to find himself with a chance, as he was played in by Ramsey in the 69th minute. Dribbling up to the edge of the six yard box, with Giroud on his right hand side asking for the ball, the Chilean took a low shot, but it was straight at Vorm.

Alexis would not be able to find the net on the day, but his play would be instrumental in Arsenal’s go-ahead goal.

In the 77th minute, Alexis picked out the run of Oxlade-Chamberlain from the top of the penalty area, and although his strong through-ball along the ground was deflected high into the air, it fell to Flamini who was rushing into the area. The longtime (if off and on) Arsenal midfielder caught the ball absolutely perfectly on the volley, and his low, hard shot zipped into the corner, giving Vorm absolutely no chance. Although Tottenham had a few moments of danger, in truth, Flamini’s stunner deflated the home side, and the Frenchman’s unlikely brace proved Tottenham’s undoing, as the match finished 2-1 to the Arsenal.

Man of the Match: Mathieu Flamini

This is a no-brainer. On the outskirts looking in, Flamini seized his chance in the squad’s rotation like no other player, on either side of the ball. In addition to the goals, he added bite to Arsenal’s defense in midfield, precisely what he needed to do in the absence of the injured Coquelin, even if he earned himself a booking in the process.

If both of his goals were opportunistic rebounds, few Arsenal fans will care. And after all, not only was his positioning commendable on both chances, but both goals were smartly taken; few players can claim to have struck a ball on the volley more perfectly than Flamini’s winning goal.

Honorable Mention: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Despite failing to get onto the scoresheet, the young rugby player turned footballer played a blinder at White Hart Lane today. Using his speed, strength, and phenomenal skill on the ball, Oxlade-Chamberlain created problems for the Tottenham defense all game long. His powerful shot was what set up Arsenal’s first goal, and his dangerous run into the box was an important piece in precipitating their second.

“The Ox” is no doubt frustrated not to have scored, but his display will nonetheless help to keep him at the forefront of Arsene Wenger’s plans this season.

Worst Man of the Match: Mathieu Debuchy

One Arsenal Mathieu covers himself in glory, the other in disgrace. Although Calum Chambers, for his own goal, might be the obvious choice, his game on the whole wasn’t terrible, and in addition to (save the own goal mistake) fairly solid defending, he also had a pair of very dangerous long balls to Ramsey and Alexis that nearly unlocked Tottenham’s defense for a third goal.

By contrast, Mathieu Debuchy looked sluggish and overmatched from the first minute to the last, and was repeatedly culpable for letting Tottenham players in behind the Arsenal defense. From the 30th to the 40th minutes, Debuchy was at fault for no less than three major scoring chances for Spurs, the last of which resulted in a very late, desperate slide tackle on Rose, one which he was rightfully booked for, and lucky not to have committed 1 yard closer to goal, which would have resulted in a penalty.

If Mathieu Flamini has put pressure on Francis Coquelin’s place in what used to be his position, Mathieu Debuchy’s sorry showing will have further cemented Hector Bellerin as Arsenal’s number one right back.

Dishonorable Mention: Harry Kane

By no means did Harry Kane have a bad game. Neither, though, did he have a game that was exceptionally good. Kane did well to get himself—and, often, the ball with him—into dangerous positions, but he too frequently failed to work the goalkeeper, and many Spurs supporters will be wondering tonight if last year’s Harry Kane would have seen them through into the next round.

That the 22-year-old striker would have to suffer through something of a ‘sophomore slump’ has been expected by many, given that he’s now squarely on opposing defenses’ radar, and that his form last year was all but inimitable. Still, with now seven competitive starts in the 2015-2016 season, and zero goals to show for it, the young Englishman will be very eager (anxious?) to score for his team sooner rather than later.

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