When Harry Kane thundered that second Spurs goal in after Mertesacker had dallied in the corner, I had pretty much given up all hope of us getting anything from the North London Derby (NLD), let alone worrying about t he league title. We have all seen this Arsenal team fail to show the required mettle in recent games, so why on earth would this game be different, why on earth will they show the fight now? That was what I thought anyway.
So to see that they could fight back from being a goal behind with ten men, against the local rivals in a game that many called the biggest NLD in Premier League history, to me felt like a really important moment for those players in red and white. It’s still not enough to see us win the league i’m afraid, and after Leicester’s win to see us eight points away from the Foxes I think our title chances have all but disappeared, but at least the team has shown some sort of fight in it.
Perhaps we should expect nothing less though. This was last chance saloon for some of the players in terms of our faith in them. If they fell away with a whimper against the Spuds, unable to get themselves up enough for a game against your bitter rivals, what chance do we have in the coming weeks? So upon reflection, the result in isolation and the way it came with the team against so much adversity, we’re all waking up this morning feeling a little bit happier about the club.
We’ve still seen our title chances gone though, in my opinion, because if it was any other team at the top of the division we’d all be saying the same. It’s just because “it’s only Leicester” that some people still believe. But an eight point gap with nine games to play is too much I’m afraid, because it leaves us with practically no room for slip ups and we’ve been slipping up since Christmas. Then, if we beat Hull on Tuesday, we’ll play the FA Cup next weekend against Watford, whilst Leicester would be at home to Newcastle, which is the biggest three point banker you could ever expect. By the time we hit the mid point in March, we could be 11 points off Leicester. That’s too big a gap. We aren’t going to win eight of the last nine games. Not away to Everton, West Ham and Man City. It’s probably just too much to hope for given our form. But I shouldn’t dwell on that too much, because we’ve just picked up a decent point and restored a bit of pride, so perhaps I will just focus on some of the key aspects of yesterday’s game.
Like the sending off, for example, in which Coquelin (who has already apologised to everyone concerned) had one of the most brain-dead decisions he could ever make by going to ground whilst already on a yellow. Up until that point, we had looked like we were keeping the Spuds at arms length. I liked the shape of the team with two more holding midfielders in Coquelin and Elneny sitting just in front of the back four and we had enough pace to hit the Spuds on the counter. But the red card gave that lot an opportunity to feel like they could get back in the game, so it is with even more frustration this morning that it was of our own making that we handed them the impetus.
If you look at the goals we conceded too, it wasn’t as if either of them were as a result of us being outnumbered due to the players on the pitch. The marking for the corner in which the Tiny Totts scored was pretty terrible, because as the ball dropped to Alderweireld it looked like we were trying to play some sort of offside trap from a corner. Zonal marking causing us issues again. The second goal felt even worse. Sure, Kane’s finish was exceptional, but why on earth isn’t Gibbs looking along his line to play Alli offside earlier in the build up? And why on earth doesn’t he just leather the ball out of play for a throw in? It was yet more poor defending from Arsenal, this after we’d looked like we were starting to steady the ship, after a nervy opening 15 minutes at the back.
But at least we responded. And at least the two goalscorers were guys who desperately needed a goal and got one each to hopefully ignite a bit of self confidence. Ramsey’s deft flick was superbly executed and was great to see go in, especially as other than that I thought he’d had a pretty poor game up until that point. He’d been doing his ‘pass the ball out of play’ routine, or the ‘give the ball away every time you get it’ impression for most of the game and whilst i’m happy he scored I’m not sure that it exonerates him from his overall poor performance. He even had a chance right at the death that perhaps could have won it for us, but took a fraction of a second too long before attempting his shot.
I thought Ozil too hasn’t great. He had a very quiet game and in matches like that you need players like him to be at their best. But the Spuds did press us high and not allow him much time and space to operate, so perhaps whilst looking at his overall performance, we should also look at how the opponents nullified him. Tottenham worked hard with the high press and the result was that we had very little time on the ball and gave it away quite a lot. But before that sending off it did look as if we were countering that with the same disciplined shape that we managed to succeed well with against City last season.
At either ends of our team I was also impressed with the two performances of Ospina and Welbeck. Welbeck looked hungry and was a key figure in the build up to our first goal. He ran the channels all day and looked threatening. We have played with Giroud all season because he’s an effective link and target man, but Welbeck has returned looking like he could do a similar job, but also has the pace, so whilst I doubt Arsene will play him on Tuesday, I think he is certainly pushing himself in to the first choice centre forward position.
Ospina made a number of fine saves all afternoon and whilst he is hardly any of our cup of tea most of the time, you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal fan this morning who isn’t glad that he managed to recapture some form and show himself to be a decent back-up ‘keeper. We just need this from him for the next month whilst Cech is out.
One final point i’d like to pick up on before I knock off for the day. It does feel like despite our own poor performances, we haven’t been helped out by refereeing decisions of late, with yesterday again being no exception. How and why Michael Oliver saw fit to call Dier up on a foul for a shirt pull on Giroud, but not give him his second yellow, is a bit beyond me. There was still 20 odd minutes to go in the game and 10 vs 10 would have shifted momentum back to us. Arsene wants referees to explain their decisions after games like managers have to, and whilst we all know that isn’t happening any time soon, I see his point when there is clear injustices like that happening every week. These types of decisions – as we saw yesterday with Coquelin – have massive impacts on games – so there needs to be some kind of explanation and analysis that happens on this. It’s poor that it is the one part of the game that gets analysis but doesn’t get actioned upon.
Anyway, that’s enough from me today. catch you all tomorrrow.