The morning after the afternoon before. It’s post-North London Derby day and whilst a draw at home against them isn’t in itself the worst result in the world, we’re probably all wondering “what could have been” had we had some senior players in our team who kept their heads screwed on properly yesterday.
We all know what a shambles we are at the back but after dominating opening proceedings with the ball and getting a couple of shots away early on, we found ourselves behind through yet more defensive stupidity.
We know Tottenham’s game. They were going to try to beat our high press quickly and go long with balls, more often than not down the channels, so when Lloris lumped long for Kane to flick on there should have been a man challenging for the header and a man behind in cover Xhaka (more on him and his terrible game in a mo) was the man for the aerial challenge and Sokratis should have been behind in cover. Instead he decided he wanted to blunderbus his way in aggressively attacking the header but instead got nowhere near the ball and suddenly we were on the back foot. Even then though, we still had a phase of play to deal with and whilst Leno was poor for the Lamela shot, there should have been a runner tracking Erikson who had the easiest of tap ins.
That runner should have been Sokratis and when I watched the replay to see him ambling back – unaware of the run of Erikson – I was spitting feathers. He’s a guy who has shown a blood and thunder attitude which gets pulses racing and sometimes that is good, but there’s no denying that sometimes he has stupidity about himself that really does irk me.
At one-nil though the onus was still on us to go at them, but we needed to be sensible because two down against any team is usually game over in these big games. Step forward Granit Xhaka, in full ‘idiot’ mode, to go to ground inside the box. It was reckless, it was farcical, it’s what he has in his game and it feels like this was a game in which suddenly the Arsenal fan base started to swing against him; it was as if the balance of those ‘for’ and those ‘against’ suddenly shifted. I’m basing this on what I’ve read, people around the ground, as well as what friends are saying about him.
There’s no doubt he’s a talented footballer when he’s got the ball to feet and he’s looking up where to build play. But these moments of rashness seem to cost us on a consistent basis and much like what happened to Mustafi last season, it feels like most people have now had enough of him.
He did stink the place out yesterday. Rash challenge after rash challenge, a penalty concession and general poor play meant he was by far our worst player on a day in which you just can’t have passengers, but I do wonder what Emery wants to do after the international break. Ceballos was poor against Liverpool and as a result was hooked from the start this weekend. On that basis – and if Emery does indeed work on a meritocracy in his squad – Xhaka needs to be pulled from the next game and we need to see what some of the younger players can do. Guendouzi, for example, was brilliant yesterday. He was aggressive in winning the ball back, he controlled the game when we had the ball and kept us ticking over. He provided the right level of protection for the defence and I thought it felt like a real “coming of age” performance. More of that please Matteo.
Torreira did well enough too, although he did look tired, whilst Ceballos came on and gave us a lot more security in possession on the ball. All three deserve to play together and on the basis of that Xhaka performance all three should start away to Watford.
So should that front three of hours because as soon as Pepe finds his range we’ll be banging in plenty of goals. He did everything right except when he was in front of goal. He’s a player who’s stronger than I thought he’d be and his close ball control means he rarely loses it in tight spaces. He had a couple of good chances last week and that first goal needs to turn up sooner rather than later, because we don’t want it to turn in to a ‘thing’. There are some shots he just seems to be rushing a bit. Perhaps it’s an overeagerness to get off the mark? Don’t know, but what I do know is that he already seems to be working well with Auba and Laca, both of whom got their goals and took both like the top strikers they are.
Laca’s goal was classic from him; tight control in the box and such a short backlift to smash the ball home in stoppage time. As the pundits said at the time that was crucial because being two down at halftime allows the Tiny Totts to reset, make tactical changes to sure up the defence and then go again with a cushion of the extra goal. By us being only one behind the momentum shifted and we dominated the second half, with Tottenham only countering a few times, albeit it was terrifying on each of the times they did counter.
Aubameyang’s goal was a masterclass of movement, timed perfectly from Guendouzi’s clipped ball in and when it went in we should have pressed harder for the third I thought, getting it – or so we thought – with Sokratis bundling in but VAR ruled Kolasinac offside and once again (albeit rightly) coming to Tottenham’s rescue. It seems to be their 12th man at the moment; let’s just hope they’re on the receiving end a few more times this season.
So we have a point. It’s not everything we wanted but at two down I thought the game was probably over and so at least the fight back shows that this team have a little more about them this season. It also means we’re not all stewing during an international break so at least that’s something too.
We have to keep the momentum growing though. The atmosphere was good against Bur key, it’s always good against the Tiny Totts, but this goodwill from the fans needs to continue and the team need to show that they’re game for having a good go at the Champions League spaces this season by going to Watford in two weeks and bagging themselves three points.
Catch you all tomorrow.
p.s. just writing this after I posted the original blog. I didn’t mention Mkhitaryan, who came on for Lacazette, but that’s because he was so anonymous and once again offered us nothing in an attacking sense. The sooner we can bin the better.