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Arsenal shows its title grit with resilient derby victory

Arsene Wenger's men looked more like a side from the George Graham era as they battled to a 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane - and that fighting spirit has kept them in contention


LONDON - Just what this north London derby win meant to Arsenal was evident in the wild celebrations of its fans and players after the full-time whistle. As White Hart Lane emptied, 3,000 away supporters danced in celebration as their idols tossed their shirts into the crowd and took selfies on the pitch.

It was a display of the camaraderie and togetherness the Gunners had needed during the match to beat their north London rivals while playing well below their best.

Tomas Rosicky smashed Arsenal into the lead less than a minute-and-a-half into the game with a sensational half-volley incongruous with the 92 minutes that followed for the visitors.

By Greg Stobart at White Hart Lane

The Arsenal players knew how much this win meant and it showed as they took selfies on the White Hart Lane pitch in front of their celebrating away supporters. This was a victory they did not deserve on the basis of a below-par performance - but it was borne of resilience and grit as they kept their title hopes alive by beating their greatest rivals.

Tomas Rosicky’s goal was a worthy matchwinner, a stunning half-volley that was in the back of the net before anyone in the stadium had any idea what he was doing. Spurs huffed and puffed and should have equalized in the second half through Nacer Chadli, but Tim Sherwood must accept that this north London derby defeat has killed Tottenham’s top-four ambitions.
As Tottenham huffed and puffed, Arsene Wenger’s men needed to dig deep to earn a victory that leaves them just four points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, ahead of their trip across London to Stamford Bridge next week.

"It’s a huge result because we were under pressure to win,” Wenger said in his post-match news conference. "We needed some special resilience to get away with it.

"It was vital to win to stay in the title race. It gets us a bit closer to Chelsea and makes the game next week more interesting."

For most, the Gunners are considered the outsiders in what has become a four-horse title race that looks set to run until the final day of the season.

They don’t quite have Liverpool’s joyful attacking flair, Chelsea’s winning mentality or a squad packed with world-class talent like Manchester City.

And yet they have continued to accumulate points throughout the season and have shown the mental strength to respond to setbacks.

After defeat to Stoke in the last league outing and Chelsea’s loss to Aston Villa on Saturday, this game turned into a must-win match for Arsenal.

While Liverpool dazzled as it passed Manchester United off the pitch in Sunday's earlier match, Wenger’s men had to grind out a victory that harked back to the George Graham ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ era.

It was summed up by the performances of Wenger's two central defenders. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were both immense, always in the right position to throw their bodies in front of the ball or to win a crucial header.

The Gunners occasionally threatened on the counterattack but they have their defenders to thank for this win.

Arsenal will need to reproduce that performance and mental strength in the coming games. Its next five fixtures include away trips to Chelsea and Everton, a home clash versus Manchester City and an FA Cup semi-final against Wigan.

The club’s injury problems meant it had to come to Tottenham - which Wenger described as ‘very up for it’ - without matchwinners like Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott.

But a 17th successive season in the Champions League is virtually assured after its win at White Hart Lane, and its FA Cup run means Wenger can finally end a nine-year trophy drought.

As far as the title is concerned, Wenger will be happy for people to keep writing Arsenal off as contenders. The fact is its hung in throughout the campaign and by this stage of the season nothing matters but the results.

And, if the Gunners can keep their head as calmly as they did against Spurs, it could all end with celebrations far wilder than those we saw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.