Sunday, February 26, 2012

Desire and Justice: 14 Thoughts on Arsenal 5 Spurs 2

Well, that was quite a game. A poor start was followed by an absolute rout, and the only disappointment by the end was that we didn't put six past spurs. Thoughts as follows:

* I'm not going to lie - I was bemused by the team selection when I first saw it. I was fully expecting Gervinho to play, and was hoping to see the Ox as well. Benayoun has barely featured this season, and Rosicky hasn't contributed enough, in my opinion, in terms of goals and goal scoring chances. My main concern was that we would see a lot of possession, and passing, but not much end-product. How wrong I was, and credit to Arsene for a bold team selection that few of us would have chosen.

* That said, we were all over the place during the opening 10-20 minutes. The first Spurs goal was simply a mess. Adebayor was given far too much space and time to find Saha, and neither Gibbs nor Vermaelen seemed to know who was responsible for picking him up. There was an element of luck as the ball took a deflection, and looped up and into the net, but we only had ourselves to blame for allowing the chance in the first place.

* Without Mertesacker, our defence lacked organization throughout the opening third of the game, and Tottenham exploited the chaos at the back to win a penalty. Now, let's be clear, Bale was at the very least 'clever' in the way he won the penalty, which, let's face it, is code for 'he dived'. But he got into a position where he could dive to win a penalty by getting past Gibbs and Vermaelen far too easily. With Adebayor just stroking the penalty home, I feared the worst.

* But we then did something which I wasn't expecting. The team, collectively, didn't give up. Maybe there was a sense of anger at the ridiculousness of the penalty decision. We redoubled our efforts and fought our way back into the game, and simply started to effectively make goal scoring chances. Sagna's goal was an example of this - Song and Walcott made a chance for van Persie, which he narrowly missed,  but instead of letting the move dissipate, we recycled possession effectively. Arteta swung another ball in for Sagna, who headed home.

* In retrospect, Sagna's goal may well have been the turning point of the match. It was a moment borne as much from desire and commitment as ability. Arsenal showed that we were not going to give up the game without a fight, and we changed the momentum of the match. As Redknapp conceded in his post-match interview, Spurs were lucky to be 2-0 up, and he was hoping they could just ride it out till half-time, reorganize and consolidate. Instead, we put them on the back foot and began to swing the game back in our favour before Spurs had a chance to regroup.

* It helps, of course, when you have a striker of Robin's quality. His goal was probably the best of the game, a moment of sheer, world-class football. At times like that, you want to do whatever it takes to tie him to the club.

* Harry knew by this point that his game-plan was buggered. He had set up in an ambitious 4-4-2, which had initially caused us problems as we struggled to deal with their two forward players, but which meant that we increasingly overwhelmed Spurs in midfield as the first half had wore on. Redknapp sent on Sandro and Van der Vaart for Saha and Krancjar at half-time, but instead of stabilizing the Spurs' midfield, it seemed to merely confuse several of Tottenham's players, many of whom struggled, throughout the second-half, to work out how offensively or defensively they should be playing.

* This confusion in the Spurs midfield was evident in our third and fourth goals. Watch Rosicky's goal: Van Persie picks the ball up in acres of space near the centre-circle, and has plenty of time to pick a pass. He gives the ball to Rosicky who carries it to the Spurs penalty-area virtually unopposed due to the mountains of space he has, before playing, effectively, a one-two with Sagna and scoring. For Walcott's second goal, there are almost four Spurs players surrounding van Persie before he lays it off to Theo. Only Parker is tracking him, as none of the other Spurs midfielders have taken on any defensive responsibility. And in a foot-race between Theo and Parker there was only going to be one winner.

* Our fifth goal highlighted something also evident in our third - Ledley King may well be finished. For our third goal, King let's Rosicky ghost past him, get goal-side and score. For our fifth, King was completely unable to deal with Theo's pace, giving him enough time to steady himself and score. Dawson may well have been injured, but I find it bizarre that he didn't start ahead of King, who cost Tottenham at least two goals by my count.

* While it is easy (and amusing) to highlight the multiple errors by Tottenham players that led to our goals, we also need to give credit to our own players. Let's start with Rosicky. For too long he has been a player who is more notable for his effort than for his end-product. But today he finally got a league goal for the first time in 49 matches, and he fully deserved it. Watching his surging run and deft finish, I can't understand why he hasn't scored more often in the last few years. Yossi Benayoun was also neat and effective, although perhaps not as effective as some are making out. One successful dribble and one key pass is OK, but not brilliant. Yet, at least he can now be considered a legitimate alternative to AOC and Gervinho, which is vital given Arshavin's departure.

* Theo - what to make of his performance? The vociferous criticism he received during the first-half was perhaps only matched by the outpouring of praise he received in the second. His first goal was perhaps a microcosm of his abilities as a player. He had the pace to beat Parker, and to get himself into a good position, but he actually miscontrolled the ball when he receives it. Yet, he had the talent to dink the ball over Friedel with a fabulous finish. His second goal similarly saw a moment of miscontrol followed by a beautiful shot. If we are to finish in the top four, we need Theo to put in a lot more performances like those in the second-half.

* Song and Arteta were both superb. With Harry conspiring to confuse his own players, they took control of the midfield with both their passing and their defensive contributions. Just as I was beginning to harbour slight doubts about the two players, they both produced phenomenal performances.

* But if I was going to pick a Man of the Match, it would probably be Sagna. He drove us back into the game, and never let-up for the entire 90 minutes. In the last few weeks, we've had the rather unedifying spectacle of certain Arsenal players basically giving-up in Milan and Sunderland. Sagna's determination, as much as his ability, was wonderful to see. He knows how big this game is for the club, and he drove us to victory.

* Overall, it was an amazing game. I predicted a high-scoring draw before the match, but noted that games between us are often decided by who makes more individual defensive errors. After a nervy start, our defence settled while Tottenham's fell apart. Instead of a 2-2 draw, we thus won 5-2. The performances of the likes of Arteta, Song, Walcott, Rosicky and Benayoun show that there is not the gulf between the two teams that many in the media would have us believe. There are 12 games left to play, and only 7 points between us and them. It's going to be very close, come the end of the season.

 But whatever happens, at least we have today. Enjoy it.


Anonymous said...

A very fair overview (I'm a Spurs fan). It's bit like when we beat Newcastle, we're we that good or they that bad. That is probably the worst we have played this season, and as you say in the 2nd half the team looked clueless, not that that should take anything away from your lots performance. What I'd give for a Van Persie!!! A fun run in awaits.

Anonymous said...

You should call this delusion and false hope. Spurs play their worse game of the season and Arsenal, unusually, capitalise. Newcastle at WHL is a decent comparison although we've played like that a fair few times this season.

Anonymous said...

great article, love the way you set out your points which i throughly agree with. keep it up

great day for all to do wih arsenal

Anonymous said...

Agreed arsenal deserved the win (I'm a spurs fan) however the turning point of the game was szczezny not being sent off. Agreed bale probably maybe looked for the penalty but in that situation any player in the world is going to. The fact is that if that was a penalty, which was what was awarded, either szczezny or the defender (can't remember who) should have received a red card. That is the punishment awarded for the offence. Now with this, tottenham would deffinately capitalised on having the extra man. This, from the point of view of trying to chase the top 2, is inconceivable to me how the referee did not even award a yellow card, however it would have ruined the game which I thoroughly enjoyed and would have given Arsene something else to moan about.

Anonymous said...

If Bale dive which he did then there is no need to give a card. The Ref had a disccussion with the assistant who probably told him it was not a penalty and there should be no card but he has already made the decision against Arsenal and was not man enough to recall his wrong decision. Cheaters are always losers. Bale cheating made spurs to lose at the end. Who is the greatest team in London? Is it Spurs that are currently ahead just this year or Arsenal that has been ahead for the last 16 years? See the media say negative against Arsenal but this match shows who is the King.