Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Bale (37)
2 – 0 Lennon (39)
2 – 1 Mertesacker (51)
“We certainly lacked caution on both goals because there was no pressure on the ball and we didn’t cover” – Arsene Wenger, yesterday
I don’t know why I put “yesterday” there, it could have been from any match this season. Arsenal once again paid the price for poor defensive play, punished twice in two first half minutes, for the same failing. Yet that failing is not unique to this match. When will they learn from these mistakes? Are they capable of learning from them? That is the painful truth; when repetitive mistakes are made, questions should rightly be asked as to why these are not being rectified. Is the coaching methodology wrong? Are the ideas not communicated properly? Do the players not understand them? Whatever the answer is, the failings have been exposed and Arsenal have problems at the back.
Think to recent games, which of the goals scored were unstoppable? Which were not as a result of defensive weakness? At the start of the season,
It happened to us many times this season and only in big games. It’s difficult to say why, there’s no common thing, in all the games there is a different problem
If the manager does not know why, there is a real problem. And no, I don’t expect him to come out in public and provide the answers. That happens on the pitch. Fundamentally, Arsène has pulled together a talented squad but they do not work together as a unit, there is something missing, a key element that stops them forging together as a team on a consistent basis. And the answers to this problem are needed quickly.
Tottenham started brightly but it lasted minutes; Arsenal asserted control before five minutes had passed. Cazorla freed Giroud but as the Frenchman stared into the whites of Lloris’ eyes, Vertonghen slid in and the chance went begging. Did Jenkinson mean his cross-shot? Lloris could not be certain and dealt with the problem comfortably. Promising moments as Arsenal probed and went nowhere. Too often the final pass was slightly overhit or wayward; too often the promising moments petered out into nothing.
Their hosts offered little by way of comparison; Szczesny did not have a save to make in the opening thirty six minutes and then he was hopelessly exposed by his defence. As the high line was held, Sigurdsson slid a pass through the gap and Bale struck with the outside of his boot into the back of the net. The Welsh international had been played onside by Mertesacker, tracking the run of Adebayor. The goal highlighted how the defence needs to communicate regularly, something that has been a failing this season.
That was exposed again within ninety seconds. Cazorla was fouled by Sigurdsson and as the move expanded, the Spaniard was left in a heap in the centre circle. Parker did not care, sending Lennon free with Monreal defeating his own offside trap. If the problem was one player, there is a straightforward answer. When it is a malaise spreading through several players, it is a fundamental issue.
Tactically, the defence was set naively. Knowing that one of the central pairing is not the quickest, knowing that Spurs use runners from midfield, why play with a high line? Why not replicate the opposition when facing Arsenal, play deep and keep the ball in front of you. I am all in favour of playing to your own strengths but to ignore the same in your opponent is a failing.
Two goals down with half-time five minutes away had turned the game on its head. The quick response needed in the second half came from an unlikely source as Per Mertesacker met Walcott’s free kick, the final ball for once well-delivered. Monreal almost levelled soon after as Arsenal sought the equaliser, leaving Spurs opportunities at the other end as Bale and Defoe wasted good opportunities to end the contest. It was not all one way traffic and Ramsey should have equalised but dragged his shot wide whilst Podolski also failed as the clock ran down.
There is a long time between now and the visit to Swansea, a match which is by no means a routine away win. By the time that kicks off, Arsenal could ten points behind third place with a win vital if fourth is to be achieved. Arsène set the team yesterday to not lose; he knew the importance of achieving a point. The plan was undone by mistakes, an all too frequent refrain this season. I am not sure how he cures that problem in the remainder of the season. He cannot buy new players, he has to change mindsets which is far from the easiest thing to do. That includes his own. Squeezing the midfield does not work if the midfielders don’t join in, all that happens is a gap opens up behind the defence; twice in two minutes you saw the folly of that plan.
How the manager turns this around is this morning, beyond me. He is reliant upon Chelsea dropping more points between now and the end of the season than Arsenal. It should not have come to that.