Defeat at home to our fiercest rivals – it hurts. But out of the pain comes a glimmer of hope. We may have lost, but only by a single, solitary goal and we had the chances to have taken a point.
I was at the match, seated extremely close to the pitch – in the third row, between the dugouts and the home end. You don’t get the same view of the game that you get from up high, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. It felt like I was in the thick of the action, playing a part in the drama. I could even see the expressions on the players faces. You get a unique idea of the speed, skill and power of football played at the highest level; it really is incredible to watch.
Sherwood’s team selection looked promising, maybe he’d learnt from the FA Cup game at the Emirates. Five in midfield, tick. A holding midfield player, tick. Defenders in their natural positions, tick. Eriksen in the centre, well you can’t have everything. When I heard the stadium announcer read out the team, I expected the Dane to play as a number 10, and Chadli to be out wide. In fact the roles were reversed. Maybe Sherwood thought Chadli’s superior height and strength would be an asset in the centre; it very nearly turned out that way.
The team looked good, and the atmosphere matched it. The crowd were up for the game, a last chance for some small victory from this most frustrating of seasons. Everything seemed promising, but the optimism was short-lived. In the second minute a relatively harmless looking break ended with Rosicky hitting a thunderbolt into the top corner of Lloris’ goal.
The mood deflated. There was an air of disbelief – were we really already behind? Shortly after it could have been worse. Bentaleb missed a tackle in midfield and Oxlade-Chamberlain found himself through on goal, as the Spurs defence vanished. With just Lloris to beat, he tried to be too clever, chipping the ball over the keeper but harmlessly wide.
This was to be the pattern of the first half. Tottenham had lots of possession but struggled to make headway against a well organised and compact Arsenal defence. When Arsenal won the ball, they launched dangerous counter attacks and looked the more likely to score – a story Spurs fans have heard far too often this season. By half-time we were lucky to go in just one goal down.
We seemed to be playing a very high defensive line, something AVB was famously criticised for. Arsenal capitalised on this, getting men in behind, and playing balls over the top of our defence. With Eriksen – not a natural winger – on the left, Rose was very exposed. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and Sagna ruthlessly exploited this.
An average position map for Spurs, from WhoScored.com. As you can see, Eriksen (circled) is very central. You can also see how high Tottenham’s defensive line was.
In the second half the improvement came. Now we were on the front foot. A nice move between Townsend and Naughton ended with the ball being drilled across the Arsenal six yard box. Unfortunately no Spurs player was on hand for the tap in. A lot of our attacking play was coming down the right. Townsend was full of energy, driving at the opposition defence. It was his best performance since returning from injury. Naughton was having a good game supporting him, he looks a much better player on the right.
Adebayor put in a tremendous amount of work up front. He really has been a revelation of late. He didn’t have many sights of goal here, although a late header was only just wide. As in previous matches, we seemed over-reliant on hitting high, diagonal balls to the big Togolese striker. However, in the middle of the second half this strategy almost paid off.
Szczesny flapped at a high ball swung in by Naughton and Arsenal were lucky to clear. Moments later the Spurs’ right back sent in another cross and Szczesny flapped again. This time the ball broke to Chadli with the Arsenal goalkeeper helpless and the goal at his mercy. It seemed he must score but somehow Koscielny managed to clear off the line. It wasn’t the Belgian’s day in front of goal. Townsend flashed another ball across the six yard line, Chadli just failing to get the touch which would surely have led to the equaliser.
The statistics paint a strong picture of the dynamics of the game. Tottenham had 59% possession and managed 17 shots to Arsenal’s 7. However, only 2 of our shots were on target. 12 were from distance, reflecting the difficulty we had in breaking Arsenal down. The opposition defenders managed to block 10 of these 17.
Crossing the ball seemed our only strategy. Spurs attempted 34 crosses, only 6 of which were accurate. Koscielny and especially Mertesacker thrive on defending high balls and they demonstrated it here. The way to attack them is on the ground, with fast passing and movement – see the way Liverpool and Manchester City thrashed them.
As time expired Sherwood threw on Soldado (replacing Eriksen much to the chagrin of the crowd) but it was all too late. Another loss to a top four team, but at least not another thrashing. A painful defeat but certainly not an embarrassment. At least we don’t support United.
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