Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur
3-4-3, the new tactic to stifle Arsenal. Theo Walcott admitted as much afterwards:
“Middlesbrough did that against us and you now see a lot of teams doing that.”
Tottenham playing it was a bolt from the blue according to Walcott though. It took them by surprise and about half of the first forty-five minutes to get to grips with. Truth be told the twenty minutes leading into half-time was about the only portion of the game where we played anywhere near the levels we’re capable of reaching.
It’s a point and we’re just off the pace, two points behind Liverpool. In our comfort zone, if you like: fourth is a familiar place to be.
Just as it’s so typical of Tottenham to be unbeaten yet behind us, it’s typical of Arsenal to cock it up when the top of the table beckons. Not that it would have been anything more than a fleeting stay; Watford’s capitulation at Anfield meant Liverpool would have overtaken us anyway. Even so, a win over Tottenham going into the international break would have put a spring into everyone’s step.
There weren’t any outstanding performances and a few below par but mostly it underlined how pivotal to the team Santi Cazorla is. Arsène post-match offered the view that we were flat, uninspired. Probably because we have two passers in midfield rather than a dribbler; it was ‘predictable’ what the central midfielders would do once they had the ball and ‘easy’ to counter.
Arsène lamented how the half-time lead was let slip. ‘The Wimmer Takes It All’ has to wait for another day but the goal, as much as the source, was a surprise. Theo Walcott’s thunderous drive aside, Arsenal had threatened without genuine chances being created. Given the gift of the own goal, it was disappointing to find the second half started in much the same way as the first: Arsenal were a pale imitation of themselves.
When the penalty came, I was already resigned to the fate that we would only get a point out of the game. It wasn’t until the final fifteen minutes or so that we really came alive. There’s no argument with the referee’s decision to penalise Koscielny although why Clattenburg hadn’t awarded Arsenal a spot kick earlier is beyond me. I always thought swapping shirts in a football match took place at the end of the ninety minutes; Koscielny’s is obviously sought after because the defence was grabbing onto it for dear life.
Kent Walton could have introduced yesterday, Grapple fans.
Arsène, bless him, tried to sound hard done by at the decision but couldn’t come up with a strong reason to ignore Koscielny’s foul other than, “being manager of Arsenal Football Club, I prefer not to give it.”
He had a point about Wanyama and to be honest, he could have been booked twice several times over but it was Dembele who was Tottenham’s best player, the most destructive as far as Arsenal’s midfield were concerned. And with the way we were playing, ten men could have taken a point anyway.
Whilst there were few good performances, some were abject. Alex Iwobi had a forgettable game, easily closed down by the combination of Walker and the nearest midfielder / centre back. He rarely found space and when he did, the Nigerian international shot straight at Lloris.
But if he was bad, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was in full-on Sunday Pub Team mode. I struggle to think of a more infuriating player during my years of watching Arsenal: bags of talent but dogged by inconsistency. It’s that wretched part of his game which surfaced yesterday. Super sub, he ain’t.
Nor were Giroud or Ramsey though to be honest. I wouldn’t fault any of the trio for effort but delivery was a different matter. Given that the team had been of a similar mind during the preceding hour or so, why should we expect the trio to make the difference? It’s a good question and rarely answered satisfactorily.
So we go into the break fourth. Feeling a lot flatter than if we’d won and were level on points with the leaders but given it’s November, any points will do. Arsène refused to accept the premiss that not playing in Europe helped Liverpool and Chelsea. I’d argue the capitulations of their opponents helped more although in both cases, the top two played well causing the collapses more than anything else.
It’s a moot point. As he said, better to be in than out although that argument may change if winning the Premier League is directly attributable to that, it begs the question of whether consistency of top four finishes is that virtuous. As I’ve said before, I’d prefer an average league finish of fourth if it were a mix of sevenths, sixths, fifths and firsts to fourth, third, fourth, seconds, etc.
But it is what it is. We’re fourth this weekend and will be for the next fortnight.